'Study now, pay later' fee advice

04-10-2005

The government is launching a campaign to tackle confusion about changes to student finance. Television, radio and print adverts will send the message that students will "study now, pay later".

Universities have warned that the complex system of fees and grants could deter young people.

"I am very conscious that we need to do more to get the basic facts across," said Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell.

Cloud cuckoo land

But he defended the plans for the �3,000 per year tuition fees, saying it was "cloud cuckoo land" to argue that higher education could have been adequately funded without higher fees.

A television advertising campaign will seek to reassure young people that, from next autumn, tuition fees will no longer have to be paid before they enter university.

Instead repayments for fees and loans will begin when students have left university and are earning at least �15,000 per year.

"You won't pay a penny before university. You won't pay back anything until you're in work - and on an average graduate starting salary of �18,000, you'll be paying �5.19 per week.

Debt fears

"Most graduates on that level of income will be spending more than that on CDs each week," says Mr Rammell.

And such repayment levels will not stop young graduates from getting mortgages, he says.

There are particular fears that worries about the increase in tuition fees will put off university applications from young people from poorer backgrounds.

There are new grants and bursaries to offset these increases, but ministers fear the controversy over tuition fees will overshadow the extra cash.

"I do have a worry that all the noise about the introduction of the new system might put off some students before they get the facts," said Mr Rammell.

'Mistakes'

"But I make no apology for saying that this student financial support package is redistributive - that most support goes to the students who most need it."

Mr Rammell admits that there have been problems with the introduction of tuition fees.

"If I'm candid, we made two mistakes with the introduction of tuition fees in 1998. One was asking students to pay before they go to university and the other was to do away with student grants. Both are being rectified in the new system."

Part-time students, representing more than 40% of the student population, can expect to receive more financial support, with the minister promising an announcement in the near future.

Part-time students

However demands that they should receive the same benefits as full-time students - such as not having to pay up-front fees - look set to be disappointed.

Mr Rammell says many of these students are "comfortably off" and will not be receiving additional subsidies.

The government wants more young people to go to university - with the target of 50% entering higher education by the end of the decade.

And Mr Rammell attacks the "elitism" of those who do not want to widen university entry - and says people need to "get real" and recognise the economic necessity of a well-educated workforce.

An international survey from the OECD published last month showed that the UK was already below average in the number of young people entering university - with several countries now sending more than 60% of young people to university.

"Look at what's happening in places like India and China. If we don't get more of our young people educated to degree level, we're going to get blown away by the global competition."

BBC News

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