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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 March, 2005, 00:34 GMT
Universities to charge top fees
Students in lecture hall
Most universities are offering extra bursaries
Nine out of 10 universities in England are to charge the maximum tuition fee of 3,000 when they are allowed to raise their fees next year.

Only eight have opted to charge lower fees, according to figures on fees and bursaries released on Thursday.

Together, the universities are pledging to spend 300m on bursaries for students from low-income families.

But student leaders say poorer people will continue to be put off university by the fear of debt.

To be allowed to increase tuition fees from the present level of 1,150 a year, universities have to show that they are investing some of the extra income in attracting students from low-income groups.

'Creative and generous'

The Office for Fair Access (Offa) watchdog has released details of the bursaries offered by universities as well as the benchmarks they have set for themselves on increasing applications from students from low-income families.

Most institutions, it says, are setting aside between 20 and 30% of their additional fee income for bursaries and other forms of financial support.
The market between institutions has emerged principally in student support rather than fees
Sir Martin Harris, Offa

Offa director Sir Martin Harris said the universities had gone further than he had expected.

"They have been both creative and generous in what they plan to offer students who are less well off," he said.

"The amount that has been set aside for bursaries has significantly more than exceeded my original expectation of 200 million, a great tribute to the hard work which has been put in by institutions to ensure that no applicant to higher education from an under-represented group is deterred on financial grounds."

Offa estimates that from 2006, a student from a low-income family could expect to receive around 11,000 over three years in what it calls "non-repayable cash" - in the form of a university bursary and a government maintenance grant of 2,700 a year.

Bursaries of 3,000 a year
Oxford
Cambridge
Durham
All for students from families with less than 16,000 a year

It says the typical bursary will be 1,000 a year.

Some universities - including Oxford, Cambridge and Durham - are offering larger bursaries.

Oxford is putting 30% of its additional fee income towards bursaries and will offer students from the poorest families (incomes below 16,000 a year) an annual bursary of 3,000, with an extra 1,000 in their first year to cover initial costs.

It then has a sliding scale of bursaries for students from families with incomes of up to 33,499 a year.

Students' pockets

Durham's bursary scheme is similar, amounting to 3,000 a year for the poorest students.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said: " I welcome the very positive commitment that universities and colleges have demonstrated to ensure all those who have the ability to benefit from higher education are given the opportunity to do so - regardless of their background."

Hannah Essex from the National Union of Students (NUS) said it was pleased universities had exceeded the minimum requirement on bursaries but still believed the fear of debt would deter people from low-income families.

Leeds Metropolitan University
Leeds Metropolitan is charging fees of 2,000 a year

"The money has not appeared out of thin air nor grown on trees - it will be coming directly from the pockets of students, from the extra income that top-up fees will generate," she said.

Around 35% of institutions plan scholarships schemes based on academic merit, ranging from 500 to 5,000.

Offa says some of these schemes are aimed just at low-income groups but the majority (62%) are awarded purely on merit.

Sir Martin Harris of Offa said: "It is perfectly clear that the market between institutions has emerged principally in student support rather than fees."

Some universities will be offering grants in kind, such as travel passes or laptops, bikes and sports centre passes.

Eight universities have opted to charge tuition fees of less than the 3,000 maximum allowed.

They are: Thames Valley University; Writtle College; University College Northampton; University of Greenwich; York St John College; Trinity and All Saints; College of St Mark and St John; and Leeds Metropolitan University.

Equality

At Leeds Metropolitan, vice-chancellor Professor Simon Lee said by setting the fees at 2,000, the university was effectively offering bursaries to all students and was therefore running a fairer system.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The concern is that longer courses such as medicine and engineering will suffer because students will go for the cheaper options
Nicholas, UK

"Just because you can charge 3,000 it doesn't mean you have to", he said.

"We wanted to treat students equally. By having a system of charging the maximum and having bursaries, it seemed to me that you would be taking from one student and giving to another."

At Thames Valley University, fees are being set at 2,700, with bursaries of 1,000 a year available to students from poorer backgrounds. Other students will each receive 500.

According to Offa, 82% of institutions are offering bursaries to students whose family income is between 15,000 and 22,000, while 70% are offering bursaries to students whose families have up to 33,000 a year.


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