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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 December 2006, 13:40 GMT
Working students to get more help
student protest
Students have held numerous rallies against fees
Students who volunteer and those who study part-time while working could get extra help under government plans.

Chancellor Gordon Brown said in his pre-Budget report on Wednesday he would look at giving students who volunteer money off their university fees.

A similar scheme linked to employers could be extended to part-time students who work, he suggested.

The move was dismissed by the Liberal Democrats as an admission that tuition fees had put people off university.

Talented young people from less affluent homes are passing up the chance of a university education because they are daunted by the cost
Sarah Teather

Mr Brown told MPs on Wednesday that it was vital that young people from poor backgrounds should be encouraged to stay in education and to go to university.

"We are introducing an 'earn to learn' programme for people to gain graduate qualifications whilst still working part time," he said.

He said he would consult on "a new path for entry to university in which students volunteer in return for a reduction in tuition fees".

He also suggested new "summer universities", along with work experience and coaching to motivate young people to stay on in education after sixteen would be set up.


Lib Dem education spokeswoman, Sarah Teather, said: "These new schemes need to be the beginning of a major rethink of tuition fees - the most damaging education policy of Labour's time in office.

"Instead of gimmicks that affect only a few, the chancellor needs to address the unjust situation faced by all part-time students who still have to pay their fees upfront rather than after graduation."

"Talented young people from less affluent homes are passing up the chance of a university education because they are daunted by the cost of fees."

Those who did choose to study were burdened with huge debts when they were just starting out in life, she said.

She added that such moves indicated that Gordon Brown was waking up to the "terrible negative impact" of Labour's tuition fees policy.

Social class

Students who started degree courses in England in September can be charged variable yearly tuition fees up to a maximum of 3,080.

The government argues this new package is fairer as the fees are no longer paid upfront and grants and bursaries are available to disadvantaged students.

But the National Union of Students has called for the policy to be reversed and argues students from poorer backgrounds are being put off by the fees.

Although overall numbers of university students are rising, there is evidence that fewer from poorer backgrounds are making it on to university campuses.

One in five children from poorer homes go on to higher education compared with half of those from the top three social classes.

The average student debt on graduation is about 13,500 at the moment.

But estimates suggest that once the students who have had to pay the 3,000 a year graduate, their debt will reach almost 30,000 on average.

Umbrella group Universities UK said it looked forward to taking part in consultations over potentially reducing tuition fees for students who volunteered.


Chief executive of Student Volunteering England Graham Allcott said any attempt to encourage more students to volunteer was welcome but that 42,000 already did so of their own free will.

"We would be loath to see the definition of volunteering change, whereby it is seen as something students do just to reduce tuition fees."

NUS Vice-President Wes Streeting said it was good news that the government recognises that there are financial barriers to participation in volunteering, and that it is beginning to think about channelling support available.

"Whilst the will to volunteer is there for many students, often it is the financial constraints that make this kind of activity impossible."

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said it would discuss with stakeholders what sort of incentives might encourage volunteering.

He also welcomed the recommendation that some expansion in the Higher Education sector should be delivered through the Train to Gain scheme.

"We have already established higher level Train to Gain pathfinders in three regions, and with partners and stakeholders we will explore how best to take this forward," he said.

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