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EDITIONS
Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 23:59 GMT
Call for research on university drop-outs
student demo
Students support a study into the effects of hardship
MPs have called for urgent research into whether the abolition of grants has led to an increase in the number of students dropping out of university.

The commons education select committee, which is dominated by Labour MPs, said the research should look closely at the effect on students from poorer backgrounds.

The call came in the committee's report into student retention.

The Chairman of the committee, the Labour MP Barry Sheerman, said there was no evidence that financial hardship was the major reason for students dropping out of courses early.

Labour MP Barry Sheerman
The committee chairman Barry Sheerman said urgent research was needed
He thought A-Level performance was a better indicator of whether students would stick with courses.

The better the grades, the more likely students were to complete a degree, regardless of their social class, he said.

The committee also called for the earnings threshold at which graduates have to start paying back their loans to be raised substantially.

At the moment, graduates have to begin paying off their loans once they earn 10,000 a year.

Mr Sheerman said the abolition of grants, the expansion of student loans and the introduction of tuition fees meant people were going to have to get used to paying for their higher education.

The Liberal Democrat member of the education sub-committee, Dr Evan Harris, said the report was a "clear criticism" of government policy.

"The report confirms that imposition of student tuition fees and the abolition of maintenance grants are having very negative effects on student retention.


The report confirms that imposition of student tuition fees and the abolition of maintenance grants are having very negative effects on student retention

Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrats
"If the Labour dominated Select Committee recognises student poverty why can't the government?" asked Dr Harris, who is also the Liberal Democrats' spokesman on higher education.

The National Union of Students (NUS) said the committee had not taken account of the impact of student debt and hardship on undergraduate drop-out rates.

The union's president, Owain James, said: "NUS is delighted that the Select Committee has taken some account of NUS evidence on student hardship.

"NUS welcomes the recommendation for the repayment threshold on student loans to be raised.

"However, NUS believes that the report does not take account of the impact of student debt and hardship on undergraduate drop-out rates."

He said the union supported calls for a review into the effects of student hardship on retention.

The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Malcolm Wicks, said the student support scheme was fair and was working.

"Student numbers are up, including among those from poor homes, and more and more are going to universities and colleges," he said.

Owain James
The NUS President Owain James backed proposals to increase threshold for paying back loans
"A new 190m programme to enable more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to university is starting this year."

In its report, the committee commented on calls from university bosses and lecturers' unions for better pay for academic staff.

The report said: "We urge the government to address the growing disparity in salaries between academic appointments and career paths for equally qualified candidates in other fields."

University chiefs have welcomed the report.

Baroness Warwick, the chief executive of Universities UK said: "Universities UK stressed in its evidence that our universities and our students need more government support.

"The report rightly focuses on the need for overall increases in unit funding per student to help universities invest more in teaching facilities and staff."

Investment in staff pay

David Triesman, the general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, called on the government to invest more in university staff pay and teaching resources.

He said: "There is now clear evidence that under-investment in university staff and resources leads to under-achievement and increasing drop-out rates by students.

"Increasing hardship on students and the erosion of academic pay prove beyond doubt that higher education cannot be provided on the cheap.

"It is time for politicians to recognise that widespread expansion of university places has to be matched by a similar growth in funding."

The lecturers' union, Natfhe, said it was "delighted" the committee had called for better pay for academics and better support for students.

See also:

08 Feb 01 | UK Education
16 Nov 00 | UK Education
01 Dec 00 | UK Education
08 Feb 01 | UK Education
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