The golden hello: free phones for freshers

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The Independent Online
A Remote higher education college is tempting recruits with free mobile telephones to help them to keep in touch with mum and dad.

As universities brace themselves for a rush of late applications from candidates hoping to beat the deadline for the end of free higher education, Cumbria College of Art and Design is taking no chances over filling every available place.

Every student accepted for a course starting this autumn will be offered a free phone and free connection, though they will be billed for line rental and call costs.

The Carlisle-based college expects the deal to attract penny-conscious students who want to stay in touch with their parents without the frustration of queueing for hall of residence pay phones.

The offer comes as the advent of "golden hellos" and bursaries for university courses is being widely forecast. After the expected scramble for places this year, institutions are considering how to lure students wary of incurring debts due to tuition and living costs.

Following the publication of the Dearing report on the future of higher education, the Government plans the phased abolition of maintenance grants from 1998 and will introduce means-tested tuition fees payable after graduation.

Cumbria College managers say applications have been down 20 per cent this year, leaving about 50 places vacant, because of changes in the admissions process for art and design colleges. For the first time, applications have been handled by the main Universities and Colleges' Admissions Service, Ucas, rather than a separate art and design admissions registry.

Charles Mitchell, director of studies at Cumbria, said this had led to changes in application deadlines which had left some colleges undersubscribed. "There is generally a problem this year," he said. "The evidence we have had in the past couple of months has been that colleges that are not in central London or big university towns are not receiving the same level of applications as in previous years."

Larger universities, fearful of missing student number targets and incurring funding penalties, had accepted unusually high numbers of applicants. Tony Higgins, chief executive of Ucas, said there had been teething troubles, but institutions had not reported any serious problems.

Students accepting Cumbria College's offer of mobile phones, which are supplied by Orange, will be given advice to ensure they are able to cover the costs.

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