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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 June 2005, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
Universities tackle fee confusion
There are growing fears that fees plans are too confusing
Universities have launched a campaign to try to tackle the confusion among students and their families over changes to tuition fees and grants.

Student finance is to be radically overhauled in England in 2006.

But university chiefs have been concerned that the complex system of fees and financial support is not being understood by potential applicants.

The 'Payment by Degrees' campaign will emphasise that university courses will now become free at the point of entry.

Universities UK - which represents vice-chancellors - wants to send a more positive message to young people considering applying to university.

It is concerned that the debate over higher tuition fees has left many applicants confused.

Deterring applicants

The plan to increase fees for English universities to up to 3,000 per year prompted a backbench rebellion by Labour MPs, and was opposed by both opposition parties.

But universities fear that in the high-profile debate over tuition fees, the other changes, such as the introduction of repayment after graduation, have not been understood.

They are worried that a lack of clarity over fees could discourage potential applicants, particularly young people from less well-off families.

Part-time students also face uncertainty about funding changes, as at present they will face the fee hike, but without the benefit of being able to make repayments after graduation.

Geoffrey Copland, vice-chancellor of the University of Westminster, says there is evidence that many potential students are "not aware or only vaguely aware of the funding arrangements".

In response to universities' concerns, a spokesperson for Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said: "Our commitment to expand access to higher education is evident in scrapping up-front fees and the re-introduction of targeted maintenance grants.

"The government has already spent 1.6m on publicity for the new system but clearly more needs to be done. Opponents of the system need to reflect carefully on whether the scare tactics used during the debate are now putting poorer students off."

Television adverts

Universities UK is setting up a website designed to explain in plain English the student finance changes for next year - and is working with universities to promote the message that students will be receiving more financial support, as well as paying higher fees.

Last month the universities called on the Higher Education Minister, Bill Rammell, to make tackling confusion over student funding a priority.

Responding on Tuesday to the launch of the campaign, Mr Rammell said the government had "made some progress in getting the message across" and he promised spending on television advertising to inform students.

With the summer holidays approaching, universities face a tight timetable to get their message across to young people, who will begin the university application process in the autumn.

Among the concerns are that the language surrounding student finance is baffling youngsters and their families - with terms such as "top-up fees", "tuition fees", "variable fees" and "deferred fees" all used to describe what students pay to go to university.

The universities want to send the message about increased financial support, but the multi-layered and means-tested combinations of loans, grants and bursaries has also not been seen as being clear enough.

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