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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 17:29 GMT
Student poverty 'not causing dropouts'
Sussex University
Nearly one in five students drops out of university
The Education Minister Tessa Blackstone has rejected claims that poorer students are being priced out of university.

She told the Commons education select committee that there was no evidence that students from low-income families were dropping out because of money worries.

And she denied claims by student leaders that the loans policy had led to a fall in the number of students from poorer families.

She said Britain had one of the highest levels of student retention among economically developed countries.

Tessa Blackstone
"The government is monitoring the effects of funding changes on students from poorer backgrounds"
Baroness Blackstone said the dropout rate had improved slightly in the past two years, from 19% to 17%.

The National Union of Students believes several thousand students could be dropping out every year because of tuition fees.

But evidence given to MPs by the Higher Education Funding Council for England said most students dropped out for academic reasons.

Top-up fees

The Education Minister was also pressed on the idea that students might have to pay top-up fees to make up a shortfall in university funds.

Baroness Blackstone said: "There are no plans to introduce top-up fees. They are not part of the government's policy."

But her failure to rule out such a scheme angered the Liberal Demoncrats' spokesman on higher education, Evan Harris.

Dr Harris said: "The government used the same language before the last General Election about having no plans to introduce tuition fees and abolish maintenance grants. No wonder students and their parents are worried about more fees."

Single parents

The MPs also took the minister to task over support for part-time students and single mothers. She told them that universities should try to help those groups.

Baroness Blackstone said: "Universities have to try very hard to reach this kind of student, to increase their choices and lessen their dependence on the state."

MPs on the committee gave examples of promising students who had been unable to take up university places because of a lack of nursery provision.

Baroness Blackstone said: "It's very important that universities are supportive about work and family commitments."

She said institutions should provide training on this.

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See also:

31 Jan 01 | Education
Students demand 'debt dropout' count
05 Oct 00 | League Tables
Drop-out rate for students
25 Jan 01 | Education
US schools 'failing' Latinas
01 Dec 00 | Education
Will students pay for funding gap?
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