Top-up fees: How charges will alter the face of education

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The Independent Online

Top-up fees allow universities to charge different fees for different courses. Universities could, for example, charge a lower fee for a science course that has difficulty in attracting applicants.

What are top-up fees?

Top-up fees allow universities to charge different fees for different courses. Universities could, for example, charge a lower fee for a science course that has difficulty in attracting applicants.

Why do universities need more money?

In the past decade, the amount of cash spent per student in the UKhas almost halved because of government cuts and an increase in the number of students attending.

How many universities will charge the full £3,000?

Most of the Russell Group - the country's 19 top research institutions including Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics - is expected to charge £3,000 for all their courses. Professor Michael Driscoll of Middlesex University, the chairman of the Coalition of Modern Universities, which represents the former polytechnics, believes every university will charge the full amount.

Will any lower their fees from the present flat-rate £1,150 a year?

Research indicates that few will lower their fees.

What will it mean for a students from a poor working-class background?

He or she will receive a maintenance grant of £1,500 a year, have the £1,200 flat-rate tuition fee waived and be guaranteed a £300 bursary from his or her university. About 30 per cent of students will, therefore, pay no tuition fee.

And a student from a middle-class home?

He or she will pay more than at present if they go to a university that charges top-up fees. At present, they face an up-front fee of £1,120 a year. In future, they will pay back a maximum of £9,000 once they are earning more than £15,000 a year.

Will it help Tony Blair deliver on his promise of getting 50 per cent of youngsters into higher education by the end of the decade?

University lecturers and student unions say fear of debt will put a lot of youngsters off. The Government says students' financial position will be better and that other countries that have introduced top-up fees - such as Canada - have not seen a reduction in applications from less well-off students.

How will he achieve his aim of widening participation from deprived urban areas?

He plans to set up a new regulatory body, the Office for Fair Access. It will have the power to refuse universities permission to charge higher fees if they do not do enough to widen participation. Universities will have topay £300 bursaries to students from poorer backgrounds on courses costing £3,000 a year.

Will the measures create a two-tier university system?

A two-tier system already exists, with universities like Oxford and Cambridge being more sought after than others.

Will this buy off the rebels?

Not on yesterday's evidence. At least 100 MPs are believed to oppose variable top-up fees despite the latest concessions.

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