Tuition fee system is discriminatory, say Muslims

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The Independent Online

Muslim students could be forced to abandon hopes of a university place under the new fees and loans regime which will come into place next year.

The Government's plan to increase tuition fees and implement higher rates of interest on loans means many young Muslims will be deterred from applying to university until a scheme is put in place that allows them to finance their degrees in a way that complies with Islamic law.

Under some interpretations of Islamic law, the acquisition of loans – particularly those which accrue interest – is forbidden. The new system requires graduates who earn above £21,000 to pay interest levels of up to 3 per cent above inflation. The National Union of Students (NUS) has warned it could be two years before a suitable system is arranged.

A spokesman for the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) called the rate increase a "pressing issue".

"Under Islamic law interest is seen as something that is prohibited," he said. "Previously, the interest was at the market rate of inflation. The problem now is that the interest is above the market rate. Because the rate of interest is above the rate of inflation, it is quite blatant usury."

Mohammed Ahmed-Sheikh, 17, a student at Southfields Community College said increased tuition fees will deter him from applying to university next year: "The fees are the reason I'm having doubts. I'm Muslim and loans are against my religion."

Some have claimed to have been forced to abandon certain principles required by their faith in order to attend university.

Ahmad Mitoubsi, 21, who graduated from Durham in July, said: "We've just had to adapt to the British system, or else I couldn't have gone to uni."

The FOSIS said it was working with the NUS to formulate a solution. One idea being considered is a new kind of loan scheme which could see education "rented" in a similar manner to Islamic mortgages, where banks buy properties and then lease them to the customer in a rental agreement.

Change is not likely to be quick, however, and in the meantime university will be unattainable for some Muslim young people who are unable to turn to family or friends for funding. Usman Ali, the NUS Vice-President for Higher Education, said: "It is important that we ensure complete equity for Islamic students but disappointingly the final framework looks unlikely to be in place until the 2013/14 academic year."

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed that the student groups were in negotiation with their officials but emphasised: "There's still a little way to go."

More than a third of English universities are due to charge students fees of £9,000 as a standard from 2012, while almost three fifths of them will charge the maximum for at least one of their undergraduate courses.