Student fears grow over top-up fees

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The Independent Online

The Government will next week launch a new drive for support of its controversial changes to student finances .

The Government will next week launch a new drive for support of its controversial changes to student finances.

Just days before colleges are due to unveil their top-up charges, the Department of Education is to launch a publicity campaign amid concerns that some students have been put off applying to university by confusion over tuition fees and loans.

From 2006, universities will be allowed to charge students top-up tuition fees of up to £3,000. Students from families with a household income of less than £15,000 will be eligible for a grant to cover the fees. Other students will be offered loans to pay the fees, with the debt repayable after they have graduated and begun earning at least £15,000 a year.

An interim scheme will apply to students going to university this autumn, with colleges allowed to charge top-up fees of up to £1,200. Grants of up to £1,000 will be available to students from low-income households, with others expected to take out loans to pay the fee.

Natalie Brook of the National Union of Students (NUS) attacked the new system. "Free education is a route to tackling inequality, poverty and overcoming disadvantage, and this principle cannot be addressed without the abolition of tuition fees and any form of student contribution," she said.

The union also warned that many students still did not understand the new rules, even though the deadline has passed for applications for university places in 2005.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education admitted the Government had struggled to get information to students. "There is a need to communicate these changes more clearly because many people have heard about the £3,000 fees and been very concerned."

Leading colleges are set to announce details of the fees they plan to charge on 17 March. Most universities plan to offer bursaries and other financial support to some students.

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