One in two will not pay university tuition fees

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The Independent Online

A drive costing £151m to persuade more bright students from poorer families to apply to university was announced yesterday by the Higher Education minister, Baroness Blackstone.

A drive costing £151m to persuade more bright students from poorer families to apply to university was announced yesterday by the Higher Education minister, Baroness Blackstone.

Thousands more students will be exempt from tuition fees and the top universities will be required to do more to recruit disadvantaged youngsters under reforms that follow the case of Laura Spence, the girl from a North Tyneside comprehensive who was accepted at Harvard University after being rejected for a different course at Oxford.

From autumn 2001, about half of all students going to university will be exempt from the £1,050 annual tuition fee, Lady Blackstone told the vice-chancellors' conference at Durham University. At present only one-third of 18-year-olds get a free higher education.

"We can judge our society in some measure by what happens to people from different backgrounds in the education system," she said. "Both David Blunkett [the Secretary of State for Education] and I are determined to ensure that young people have the chance to succeed. This is not just political rhetoric. It is underpinned by hard economic common sense. We can't afford to ignore our young people's potential because they are born on the wrong side of the tracks."

The new money will go to all universities to help them recruit more admissions staff, send ambassadors to schools and colleges and run open days and summer schools for pupils who might not otherwise think about higher education or certain universities. But colleges will have to show the Government they are meeting targets for recruitment of poorer students.

Praising Oxford and Cambridge for their efforts to improve access in the past two years, the minister said she hoped they, and other top universities, would recruit more suitably qualified state pupils. The package, called "The Excellence Challenge", boosts funding by £33m in 2001-02, £56m in 2002-03 and by £62m in 2003-04. More children from disadvantaged families who have little or no experience of higher education will receive bursaries of £2,000. Additional bonuses of £100 will be tried for pupils in the final year of the sixth form to help them with the costs of applying to university.

Vice-chancellors welcomed the package, as did the millionaire philanthropist Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, which pioneered summer schools. Mr Lampl said he would like top universities to appoint admissions officers to go out to schools and colleges to encourage youngsters to apply.

Professor Howard Newby, president of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, announced an initiative between schools, colleges and universities to raise pupils' interest in higher education.

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