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- Blair Considers
Abolition Of Fees.
Tuition fees may be abolished and maintenance grants
reintroduced, it was announced, in an attempt by the government to
boost the number of university students from low-income
Speaking at a conference, Prime Minister Tony Blair, disclosed
governmental plans to review the current student funding system,
which emerged in this year's election campaign as the most
unpopular decision made by the Labour government.
The scheme has been welcomed by the NUS who have campaigned
against the abolition of grants and the introduction of tuition
fees since the decision was first instituted in 1997.
Announcing the proposal, Education Secretary, Estelle Morris,
accepted fears that the current scheme may be deterring poorer
students from attending university. She said, "I recognize
that for many low income families fear of debt is a real worry and
could act as a barrier to higher education".
The announcement has come at a time when Labour support has been
gradually declining. Pressure from groups such as the NUS
and the decision to scrap tuition fees has prompted Labour to
re-think its vastly unpopular education system.
The devolved governments in Wales and Northern Ireland have
announced their opposition to the scheme although as yet they lack
the financial strength to break away from the system.
As with the current loan scheme, under the new proposal graduates
would still be expected to pay money received through grants back
to the government. Graduates would pay off their grant
through extra income tax in the 20-25 years after graduation.
All students would be required to pay graduate tax, or 'graduate
repayment' as it is called by the government, except those whose
courses begin before the scheme is introduced, regardless of
whether they take out the grant or not. The extra tax would
be charged once the graduate was paying 22 pence income tax but
government officials are adamant that the contribution would be
It is hoped that the scheme will mean that those who earn more
after graduation will effectively subsidize graduates whose wages
Details of the reform are still being finalized by the Department
of Education but it is believed that two schemes are currently
being considered. The first plan is to make maintenance
grants, abolished by Labour in 1997, available to all and charge a
higher graduate tax. The
second, most probable, idea is to means-test the grant and make
the repayment tax lower.
The continuation of tuition fees is doubted as the government is
uncertain that students will be willing to pay both during and
after their scheme of study. Loans will still be available
to all students but at a far lower level than is currently
The new arrangements will not be put into action until September
2003 at the earliest but the announcement is certain to spark
debate throughout the political and student body.
Article by Miranda Schunke