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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 11:26 GMT
Q&A: Higher education review

The government unveils a long awaited White Paper on education dealing with the future of student fees and university funding. BBC education correspondent Kim Catcheside explains the issues involved.

The government's plans on higher education are being published on Wednesday - what is it going to say?

There have been so many leaks that people might be confused, but this is it briefly.

The "top-up" fees will be charged on courses not just by the most popular and prestigious universities.

So for instance, Reading University which offers a very good course on estate management might want to charge 3,000 a year for that.

Oxford and Cambridge may well be able to charge 3,000 a year for most of those courses.

That money includes the 1,100 "up-front" fee that is currently paid.

The whole lot is paid back after graduation, once the student is earning 15,000 a year.

Are there benefits in this as well?

Only about half of poor students pay the 1,100 up-front fees, which are means tested.

So they actually will only pay 1,900 a year extra for the more popular courses.

Is there a new grants system for people from low income households?

That is expected in 2004, two years before the government actually wants to introduce these top up fees.

That is a bit of a sweetener for poor students and those who had their interests at heart, notably about 100 backbenchers and several cabinet ministers who voiced their opposition to the idea of these increased fees.

When will these fees become payable and who is affected? Is this only applicable in England?

The fees are payable from after the next election, which will probably be in 2006.

In Wales, the position has been slightly confused and the assembly will be given clearly devolved powers on higher education so that they can opt out of this altogether.

In Scotland, it is clearly devolved and they've made it perfectly clear they are having none of this.

Scottish MPs fearful of English students flooding into Scottish universities want to set quotas to limit the rush.

What will be the job of the regulator?

Essentially, universities will have to sign a contract to improve their procedures for admitting students from less privileged backgrounds and the regulator will be there to make sure that they fulfil the terms of that contract.

This is not a quota on the number of underprivileged students, because 90% of people who get the relevant qualifications of all backgrounds go to university.

The real problem is that you are four times as likely to go to university if you are middle class and four times more likely to gain an A level if you are middle class.

That is the point at which the government wants universities to go into schools in difficult areas, talk to 14-16 year olds and convince them it is worthwhile staying on to get those qualifications so they can go to university.

See also:

30 Oct 02 | Education
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11 Jul 02 | Education
17 Oct 02 | Education
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