Means-test university fees so poor pay less, charity says

Students in library Students from poorer backgrounds should pay less for tuition, argues The Sutton Trust

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University tuition fees in England should be means-tested to allow students from poorer homes to pay less, an education charity has urged.

Two-thirds (65%) of 11 to 16-year-olds polled for the Sutton Trust voiced concerns about university costs.

While an average 17% said cost was crucial in deciding whether or not to do a degree, this rose to 23% among those from poorer families.

The government said it was improving information on student finance issues.

In total, 86% of 2,595 teenagers at state schools in England and Wales said they believed going to university was important in "helping people do well and get on in life", with 81% saying they were likely to go to university when they were older.

Start Quote

We recognise it is vital to spread understanding of student finance issues”

End Quote Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Of the teenagers polled for the Sutton Trust by Ipsos Mori, 67% said exam results were the most important factor when deciding whether to do a degree.

And 28% rated tuition fees as their biggest source of financial concern - for 19% it was the cost of student living, while 18% pinpointed not being able to earn while they were studying as the main problem.

'More transparent'

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "It is clear from this poll that many young people remain worried about the cost of higher education.

"Graduates face debts of over £40,000 with the higher fees and many will be paying for their university studies into their 50s.

"While there may have been some uplift in university applications this year, student numbers are not yet back to 2010 levels.

"We are urging the government to means-test university fees, as used to be the case, so that those from low- and middle-income families pay less for tuition."

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said changes meant the university system was fairer, more transparent and more progressive.

"No new student will pay fees upfront, there is more financial support for poorer families and loan repayments will be lower once graduates are in well-paid jobs.

"The rise in applicant numbers and the record number of applications from students from poorer backgrounds show that young people are not deterred by financial concerns.

"However, we recognise it is vital to spread understanding of student finance issues and that is why improving access to information is at the heart of our reforms."

'Biggest barrier'

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "There are still many misunderstandings surrounding student finance.

"It is vitally important that young people, and their parents, have access to good information about tuition fees and repayments when making their decisions about university.

"The most important fact to remember is that students or their parents will pay nothing upfront - tuition fees are covered by loans from the government. Students don't pay anything back until they graduate and are earning over £21,000."

The head of higher education for the University and College Union, Michael MacNeil, said: "We need our brightest young people aspiring to university and the courses best suited to their talents - worryingly the biggest barrier is the increased cost of a degree.

"Charging for education in a recession makes little sense, risks stopping many talented young people from fulfilling their dreams and robs us as a country of their full talents."

Students from England who started their degrees after September 2012 have been charged fees of up to £9,000 a year. However, these fees are not paid upfront.

Fees at Welsh universities also rose to up to £9,000 a year, but Welsh students at any UK university pay only the first £3,465 of their fees - the rest is paid by the Welsh government.

Scottish students taking degrees in Scotland (and EU applicants who wish to study in Scotland) do not have to pay for their own tuition.

Students from Northern Ireland who wish to study there, (and European Union students who wish to study in Northern Ireland) will pay course fees of up to £3,575.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    If UK plc does not want to invest in its people then UK plc won't reap any benefits.

    It makes sense to give students from poorer backgrounds a helping hand if we want to reduce the numbers of unemployable people from impoverished areas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Means testing is costly, inefficient and where do you draw the line? set up hardship funds so people can apply.
    student-loan is the best kind of loan there is, no interest, payback is conditional on above-average salary, what's the problem? can't invest in your future? If it's not worth it, don't go to uni; i hate the notion that poor people are all under-achievers, uni is not the only way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    The main point of university (or so students are told) is to improve your education and earning potential. So I see absolutely no reason why a student's parent's income has any bearing on their future earnings. There should be no means testing at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Students should pay for their higher education & that those form poorer backgrounds should not eb denied the opportunity through cost.

    But both the current system & this propsal are monumentally expensive to administer.

    Introduce a new tax code for graduates where by their tax rate is 1% higher than anyone else on that income - it would cost NOTHING to run & would raise MORE than fees do...

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Amazing how the people making the decisions to start charging students are the very same people who were able to get a free degree !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Even when I went to uni (2000) there were means tested grants to cover lower income family fees.

    However one difficulty with means testing is that it is always the lower middle class that loses out. They earn just too much to get any support, but not enough that it isn't a huge financial burden,

    I don't know on this, it's tricky.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I attended University in the 80s on a partial grant where my dad only had to make up the money for my living expenses, i.e. no tuition fees.

    My degree was effectively an apprenticeship & I am still working in the same field now.

    The Govt should definitely be helping students discouraged by the massive debt overheads, but only if they study relevant subjects, i.e. sciences not arts & media!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    @29 Shabutie
    "do you really think we need another reason to put people off studying engineering and physics?"

    By no means suggesting increasing fees for these subjects. You're right, as the ones that we really need young people studying, if they need to subsidised - the Gov should take up the slack - not other students studying "soft" subjects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I am amazed that the Sutton Trust have said this. Google the fees for almost any university and you'll see that they already charge lower fees to students from poorer backgrounds. They have to if they want to charge fees over £6k which they virtually all do.

    The focus should be on helping poorer students, their parents and everyone else understand how student "debt" is not like any other debt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Abolish the irrelevant courses and free places for the remaining courses would be affordable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I like how everyone assumes that the parents are willing to help out, and can afford to do so. Earning more doesn't necessarily mean that parents have more they can contribute...

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    This is a daft idea. Students at 18 are adults and discrimination on social class (assumed) is probably illegal. It would mean setting up a whole new bureaucracy too. Typical Labour!

    The OU may cost £15k but a three year brick Uni costs £27k!

    The reason why other EU countries' fees are so low is people pay much more income tax! It's all the same money except some states take it upfront.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    If we want to successfully move away from the Welfare system, poorer families will need the opportunity to become independent and make the best of their abilities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Even back in the old days, Grants (remember them?) were means tested. I had to provide proof of income plus bank statements. I was pleased when my daughter was awarded a "grant" but slightly less so when the letter stated that 90% of the grant was being taken directly from me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Around 15 years ago, I completed an AI project using the computing facilities of a major Northern red-brick university. Even then, the Computer Science students were 90% Asian, either Indian or Chinese. And both groups paid extra-tutorial fees, however they were 100% funded by their countries.
    And we wonder why all the high-tech industries have moved east?
    We’re being left behind!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Nonsense - student loans for fees are very low interest, and do not need to be repaid by the borrower until they reach an income threshold.

    One size fits all whatever your background as a student, so it is a very honest system.

    The better advice is for all people to be better informed about the benefits of university and/or course/career they want to follow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    All part of the plan.

    50% of the population to attend university, most of whom will be substantially indebted by the time they leave, exacerbating the debt society.
    An unprecedented spending / credit cycle during 12 years in office, including the selling of gold reserves at rock bottom prices.

    Anyone still uncertain about who Bliar and Clown really worked for?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    @20 do you really think we need another reason to put people off studying engineering and physics? 'Soft' subjects need to subsidise these courses else we'll have literally nobody studying them - and they are the ones we actually need!
    It seems obvious to me that fees will put off the poorest and means testing would be fairer, but we have the wrong people in power for reducing inequality

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I went to One of the best universities in the country back in the 1980's.

    I paid no fees and received the full maintenance grant, which was enough to live on with the addition of the money I earned by working full time in the Holidays.

    At that time over 65% of the students were from state comprehensives.

    Currently over 65% are from Fee charging Schools.

    Says it all really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    this will never happen, this govt is not interested in fairness or equality.
    they want well paying jobs for their friends and family, and the rest of us can go hang


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