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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 15:43 GMT
Students rally against debt
NUS demo central London
The march winds its way through central London
Thousands of students have been marching through London demanding the abolition of tuition fees and the restoration of grants.

The demonstration, with a rally in Trafalgar Square, follows claims by the National Union of Students that many students are living below the poverty line.

According to the NUS, the average student has just 29.11 a week on which to live, once they have paid their rent.

This is 13 a week less than 18 to 24 year olds who are claiming jobseeker's allowance.

To suggest that students would be better off on the dole is irresponsible and untrue

Department for Education
The union said its latest survey showed rents for student accommodation outside London averaged 2,301 for one academic year, leaving 1,514 over from the 3,815 annual loan for a student living away from home - or 29.11 a week.

The jobseeker's allowance for 18 to 24 year olds was worth 42 a week and claimants were also entitled to housing benefit to cover their rent, the NUS argued.

Owain James of the NUS
Owain James of the NUS: "Second-class treatment"
And in London students could expect to pay rents of 3,048 on average.

The government dismissed the claims as irresponsible and said graduates could expect to earn typically 35% more than the average wage.

NUS president Owain James said: "The NUS is appalled that a government who claims its number one priority is education is forcing thousands of young people to live below the minimum threshold that it believes a single person can live on.

"It is incredible that in the 21st century students are being treated as second-class citizens - they would be better off on benefits."

'Untrue'

But a spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "To suggest students would be better off on the dole is irresponsible and untrue.

"Graduates can expect to earn on average 35% more than the average - that's an extra 400,000 over a lifetime.

Ken Livingstone
Ken Livingstone: "Raise taxes"
"Thankfully, most students have not been deterred by such scaremongering," the spokesman said.

The government was committed to tackling the problem of less well-off students being put off going to university by debt or the perception of debt, he said.

Recent figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service showed a 3.1% increase in student applications in the past year, he added.

'Raise taxes'

At the student rally, the Liberal Democrats' higher education spokesperson, David Rendel, said students agreed with his party's policy of abolishing tuition fees and restoring grants for the poorest.

"As we have proved in Scotland and Wales, reform is possible," he said.

"It is time the government listened. If they want to encourage more young people to go to university, they must remove the fear of graduating with five figure debts."

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, told the rally: "I think it is a matter of absolute hypocrisy that that generation that sits in the House of Commons is taking away the rights of this generation rather than fighting to preserve them."

He proposed a rise in taxes to fund students: "Tax people fairly and progressively so that those who earn the most pay the most. Burdening people with debt is ignoring their contribution to society," he said.

Under review

Last year the government announced a review of student funding arrangements in England, but it is yet to report back.

The Welsh Assembly announced last week that student grants would be re-introduced, with 41m being ring-fenced for poorer families.

This is similar to the new system in Northern Ireland - where students demonstrated on Tuesday.

There, from September, students whose parental income is less than 15,000 a year will be entitled to a grant or bursary of up to 1,500.

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

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's James Westhead
"It is a sign of just how angry and frustrated they have become"
  The BBC's Rory Maclean
"Large amounts of extra cash for higher education seems unlikely"
  NUS President Owain James
"We want to see an end to the tuition fee system"
See also:

20 Feb 02 | Education
19 Feb 02 | Education
19 Feb 02 | N Ireland
12 Feb 02 | Wales
31 Jan 02 | Education
31 Jan 02 | Health
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