Schools reap the profit of fear

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The Independent Online
SCHOOLS are making thousands of pounds in commission through financial advice to parents worried about pounds 1,000-a-year university tuition fees.

Some are making up to pounds 7,500 a year from a link with financial giant Friends Provident. A consortium of 86 schools across Britain negotiated the link with the investment house, which offers parents savings plans to help them pay the costs of further and higher education.

The demand for such measures shows the mounting concern of parents over the issue.

The Schools Consortium says its aim is to offer parents sound advice and help while also supplementing school budgets. The group was set up in 1991 to help schools collaborate and develop money-making ideas.

Under the scheme, schools invite parents to a financial-planning seminar on the costs of sending children to university or college. Teachers outline the problems of fees and grants and financial advisers from Friends Provident First Call, an arm of the firm, give a presentation on their products. Schools are paid commission on any policies taken out.

Consortium chairman Don Thaw, deputy headteacher of Mellow Lane School, in Hayes, Middlesex, said great care had been taken to vet the company to ensure it was sympathetic to schools' needs, and any commission came from profits, not parents' savings.

"Any partnership must have educational value and must be educationally sound. This is very much done on a soft sell," he said.

But Liberal Democrat education spokesman Don Foster said that the development was "the first step on a very slippery slope".

n A Government guide to fees, sent out to students last week, threatens them with expulsion if they fail to pay up.