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 86.

    @73. Northern1
    I paid my fees when they were relatively low but even so, I know many people now who would not and could not afford to pay £9000 fees myself included.

    You do not pay it upfront. As the article says - the massive problem is that an astonishing number of people still don't get this. Everyone can "afford" to go if they want to. Ill informed scaremongering puts people off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.


    should perhaps by limited only to useful subjects (engineering, IT, medicine, sciences, teaching, etc) ...more likely to result in gainful employment.

    The words of a curmudgeonly philistine. Firstly there is no evidence that arts and humanities are less employable and its idiotic to suggest they are not useful. In fact Most grad jobs don't require specific degrees.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    The problem with means testing for students is that it assumes that those who have wealthier parents will receive proportionally higher amounts of money from them- This is inaccurate.

    With regards to tuition fees, government subsidisation should be based on academic ability; not financial stability of parents. Government needs to attract the smartest from all classes, not just from the poorest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Why do degree courses have to be 3yrs on the whole? Why not have condensed courses of say 18mths / 2yrs where possible?

    That may not reduce the tuition fees, but it would certainly help with accommodation costs.

    Not sure why "18% pinpointed not being able to earn while they were studying". I managed a distance learning PGD whilst working full time in insurance, not flipping burgers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    University should be based on merit. If you are bright enough to get should be free..not be able to allow your parents to buy your way in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    It would be fairer if the costs were born by current general taxation.Those who have already benefitted from the free education model should contribute more. This will include those who draw profits from business as well as wage earners. Companies too should contribute, especially those whose model piggy backs on state education provision eg private medicine

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    I have never understood this obsession with punishing families where the parents have worked hard (over 30+ years) to earn good wages and then force the children into massive debt should they be suitable to pursue a degree. Scrap this target of 40-50% going to Universities and (as with older generations) make real degrees free, pay back to the country is in future tax returns.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    The Guardian-readers need to understand how badly they've got this wrong. Being working class isn't a condition to be cured. It's ok!

    Uni is seen as a way of lifting people out of the working class, as an end in itself. It should just be part of the ed. system, along with vocational training, the latter being the more important.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    @54 fishinmad: what gives you the confidence that, were they not at university, the people of which you speak would be in the job market, and not just claiming benefits, anyway?

    @62 milyflower: or crack down on tax avoidance schemes or reduce overseas aid to cover it? Why has every argument for increased spending in one area got to threaten to take money out of schools or the NHS?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    At the moment Britain can afford naff all, still borrowing £100+billion a year to pay for education NHS & all else.
    The bubble can still burst & collapse can still happen.

    After WWII, we were skint & borrowed £billions from USA, people struggled but got on with life.
    People today expect & demand too much

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    @60. Mike C
    "So, a Britain born in Scotland and educated in a Scottish Uni pays no fee. A Britain born elsewhere in the UK and educated in Scotland pays fees, but a citizen of an EU country (except the UK) and educated in Scotland pays no fee"

    If Scotland votes for independence and stays in the EU then English students will be able to go for free - "lol"!

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    A good idea. Means-tested systems do not have to be expensive to run. All the relevant data from family unit income to property values, from bank accounts to share holdings, from pension scheme values to state benefits received are all on computer databases somewhere. They just need to all be joined up to measure a family units true wealth. Children from poor backgrounds should not have to pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    No. Why should anyone pay for education based on THEIR PARENTS' income?

    Or is it if parents are considered to have sufficient now, the child should be made to pay (suffer) later for their parents' sins?

    Though great benefit for divorced parents, if only one household income taken into account?

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    I paid my fees when they were relatively low but even so, I know many people now who would not and could not afford to pay £9000 fees myself included. Firstly this deprives gifted people of further education and secondly deprives our country of the fully realized potential of the gifted people themselves. I therefore agree with this proposal and would like to see a political party adopt it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Doug Stanhope

    "What are the views of the UK University alumni who studied for their degrees during the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's . Do you think students should be paying up to £27,000 each for their degrees today and if so why?"

    Certainly in the 60s 70s a university place studying a much smaller range of subjects was hard fought for and not considered a right

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    I think means testing is a good idea because it will enable poor people to go to university when they would have otherwise been put off; but should perhaps by limited only to useful subjects (engineering, IT, medicine, sciences, teaching, etc) that are more likely to result in gainful employment. I don't think it's needed for subjects like Art, Music, Ancient History, Egyptology, etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Fortunately my daughter finished her degree last year before the price hike to £9000, which I think is ridiculous. Would someone explain to me how English students are not classed as being in the EU when it comes to free studies in Scotland and which, after all, is in part paid for by English taxpayers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    In all honesty, having a degree hasn't actually helped me in my career at all. Not once have I ever been asked to prove I have one. My 'foot in the door' came from my abilities/talent, not a piece of paper no-one has ever asked to see. I would seriously advise young people today to not waste 3 yrs gaining a massive debt, and just start working and earning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    @35 Where do Labour and the OU come into this story?The Sutton Trust was set up by Sir Peter Lampl who ,as far as I know ,has never had anything to do with Labour,but is a philanthropist.Its a pity there weren't more like him...then there would be no education fees to argue about.

  • Comment number 67.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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