Students can pay tuition fees upfront, says Clarke

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Students will still be able to pay their university tuition fees upfront if they want to avoid debt, the Government has promised Labour MPs in an attempt to defuse the backbench rebellion over top-up fees.

Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, has come under pressure to clarify his plans from MPs worried about a backlash from better-off families who want to "pay as they go" rather than be saddled with repayments to the Government when their salaries reach £15,000 a year.

In a new briefing paper for Labour backbenchers, seen by The Independent, Mr Clarke says: "We are removing the obligation of having to pay upfront fees but anyone who wants to pay them can do so. Further, they can pay off the loan faster, or in whatever size instalments they want, if they want to, providing they make the minimum contribution automatically repaid through the tax system."

Chris Grayling, the Tories' Higher Education spokesman, said the fees would produce little or no extra revenue for universities if a third of fee income was diverted to bursaries for teenagers from low-income families. He said the scheme would leave a £40m-a-year deficit.

Alan Johnson, the Higher Education minister, countered: "These figures are nonsense, they add together apples and pears. We intend to bring back grants this year, two years before variable fees would come into force. Just because you add figures together doesn't make them right."

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