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Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Published at 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK


Pensioner struggles with university fees

Students are expected to take out loans to pay for university

A 73-year-old pensioner who has won a place at university is struggling to pay his university tuition fees.

After nine years of studying towards getting a place at university, Graham Bell from Sheffield finds that he now has to pay over £400 tuition fees a year, plus all his travel and maintenance costs.

"All along I was told that education would be free and now I'm deeply disillusioned to find that I've got to pay these fees," says Mr Bell, who has a place on a degree course at Sheffield Hallam University.

With a weekly pension of £83, he says that finding money for the fees and the £4-a-day travel costs is going to be very difficult.

Mr Bell says that he has written to appeal to the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, who lives only a short distance away in Sheffield, but received a standard reply saying that his letter had been passed on.

After first being asked for the full £1,025 per year in tuition fees, Mr Bell appealed to the local authority, who re-calculated that the pensioner was entitled to £600 in means-tested support - leaving him to find £425.

"All the other students have got loans, but because I'm old I don't get anything. It's very disappointing. Everyone has been very sympathetic but nobody seems to be able to do anything about the regulations."

Age discrimination

Since the abolition of grants, students have been required to take out loans which are then repaid from future earnings. But as Mr Bell is retired and will not be entering work after college, he has no access to the funding available to other students.

"The government says it wants to stop old people from vegetating. But the costs of university seem to be discriminating against old people who want to carry on learning."

Both the university and the local authority have expressed their support for Mr Bell, but say that they are unable to over-rule the government's regulations on student finance - which appear to have been drawn up with younger applicants in mind.

Mr Bell's efforts to go to university would appear to be the embodiment of "lifelong learning". After leaving school at 13, Mr Bell only returned to education when he was 64. Since then, he has acquired 13 GCSEs and two A levels - and has been accepted for a combined studies course at university.

"I've learned to speak French and I've found out about Shakespeare. Education has awakened a sleeping person inside me," said Mr Bell.

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