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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
Blair hints at change in student fees
Student funding has been a recurrent problem
Tuition fees and student funding could be under review, the Prime Minister Tony Blair has suggested.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, Mr Blair gave the clearest indication so far that the controversial system of student loans and fees could be reformed.

"We'll have to find a better way to combine state funding and student contributions," he told the conference.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair called for a "better way" to fund students through university

Among the options that might be considered would be to remove the tuition fees, which have to be paid "up front" and which have sparked the greatest protests.

These could be replaced by a repayment system in which students pay nothing back until they complete their courses and begin working.

There might also be a move to simplify the range of subsidies and hardship awards available to less well-off students.

Govenment sources, speaking after the conference, said that nothing was being ruled in or ruled out of the review.

Student finance has been repeatedly exploited by opposition parties looking to attack the government's record on education.

The Liberal Democrats have courted the support of young people with promises to scrap tuition fees - and defeated Conservative leadership candidate Kenneth Clarke attacked the funding system.

In Scotland, tuition fees have been scrapped and replaced by a system of paying back fees and loans once students have graduated and are working.

Last month, the incoming head of Universities UK, Roderick Floud, speaking on behalf of university chiefs, added his voice to the criticism of the present system, saying that it was too complex and could deter applicants to higher education.

Since the introduction of tuition fees four years ago, the government has faced a long running protest from student unions who have claimed that the fees were stopping young people from applying to university.

If this were to be the case, this would be another problem for the government, which is committed to increasing the numbers of young people entering university.

And the problems of students leaving university laden with thousands of pounds of debt have become a concern to both young people and their parents.

At the last general election, there were reports that Labour MPs had been concerned at the level of complaints made about student finance.

The BBC's Mike Baker
"They have to except that young people from poorer backgrounds are being put off"
See also:

16 Jan 00 | Scotland
Brown 'faces tuition fees headache'
13 Sep 01 | Education
Call for student funding reform
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