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Q&A: university tuition fees

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 17 March 2009

What financial support is available for university students, and have fees deterred people applying to university?

What is the current situation?

The financial support for students varies across the UK.

Since September 2006, students in England pay £3,000 per year (index linked) for their education, with the cost in 2009/10 reaching £3,225.

Universities were given discretion to choose how much they charged for courses, but in practice all universities opted to charge the full amount on all courses, with a few exceptions.

Students can defer payment of the fees until after graduation, as every student is eligible for a student loan for tuition fees to cover the total amount. The Student Loans Company pays this directly to the university and the student repays it, along with their maintenance loan, when they earn over £15,000 per year.

Scottish students, who since 2000/01 were already paying after graduation through a graduate endowment scheme, now do not pay any fees if they are studying in Scotland. Although they are still liable for the fees, the Scottish Parliament, which has always had more control over their education budget, voted in February 2008 to covers the cost for them.

Those not from Scotland pay £1,775 a year, or £2,760 for a medical course.

Universities in Wales still charge the index linked £3,000, but the Welsh Assembly voted to give those studying in Wales a subsidy of up to £1,940.

EU students pay the same fees as home students, but fees can vary widely for those students coming from outside the EU.

How do today's suggestions differ?

The scenarios outlined today by Universities UK include raising the cap on fees to either £5,000 or £7,000, with a range of maintenance packages to back this up.

If the current support system remained in place, their report argued that the average student debt on graduation would rise from £17,248 in 2011 to £26,412 in 2016 if fees rose to £5,000 per year. With £7,000 fees, that average debt would rise to £32,462 in 2016.

Universities UK argue that at £5,000 most universities would still charge the full amount for courses, but at £7,000 a partial marketplace for courses would begin to emerge.

Some university vice-chancellors argue that fee levels should be completely deregulated, with universities being able to set their own fee levels and allowing a full market for courses to emerge.

Have tuition fees put people off university?

The number of people applying for university and accepting places is still going up, but the number of students at university still falls short of the target the government set to get 50 per cent of under 30's into higher education by 2010.

Grants and bursaries have also been re-introduced to attract students on lower incomes to go to university, but the number of students from poorer backgrounds has only risen moderately.

The grant, re-introduced at £1,000 in 2004 and increased to £2,700 in 2006, is means tested. Those students coming from households with an income of £25,000 in 2009/10 are eligible for the full grant which is now £2,906, with the amount reducing to nothing for students from households with an income over £50,020.

Universities are also obliged to provide bursaries of around £300 if they are charging the full tuition fee.

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