Students may drop opposition to loans

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BRITAIN'S students are likely to drop their opposition to funding by loans this week. Delegates at the National Union of Students conference in Blackpool, who debate the issue on Tuesday, are thought likely to decide to back a loans system after years of campaigning for grants to be restoredto 1979 levels in real terms.

The change of policy is seen as a move towards greater realism in student politics. All the major political parties are against restoring grants.

Ghassan Karian, president of the University of London Union and a leading campaigner for reform, is confident that this time conference will go his way."It's time students woke up to the reality of a government that is not going to fund higher and further education in a way that will ensure wider access," he said.

Mr Karian has been part of a nationwide movement to promote reform in NUS education funding policy. Following last year's conference in Derby, where students again rejected reform, a pressure group called New Solutions was set up to push for alternative forms of funding. It has since gained support from nearly 300 student officers. But there are those who maintain that the only fair way to fund higher education is through government spending. Clive Lewis, NUS vice president, is one of the main players in the Campaign for Free Education. He believes that abandoning the ideology of free education for all can only lead to increased hardship and that students from poorer backgrounds will be frightened off by the prospect of debt.

"If the Government can afford to whip up pounds 5bn to wipe out British Rail's debts to save its privatisation programme, then it can afford to invest something in people," said Mr Lewis.

The present grant for students living away from home in London is pounds 2,340, going down next year to pounds 2,105 ; outside London it is pounds 1,885, falling to pounds 1,710. The NUS estimates that to return to 1979 levels in real terms the grants would have to be raised to about pounds 4,000-pounds 5,000 per student. The maximum loan available is pounds 1,695 in London and pounds 1,385 outside.