Page last updated at 16:34 GMT, Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Students protest over finances

Liverpool students with campaign bus
Students in Liverpool took a campaign bus around the city

University students across England staged local protests against the top-up fee system of student finance.

The National Union of Students has organised a "Students in the Red" day of action to urge the government to scrap the current fee system.

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said debt was not affecting student applications.

The action comes ahead of a government review of tuition fees, which is expected some time next year.

'Stop tinkering'

The action saw students stage a range of protests, from rallies to releasing helium balloons and from campaign buses to creating a fictitious wall or mountain of debt.

In the North East, students hung a banner from the Millennium Bridge in Gateshead, spelling out the average student debt there - £25k.

President of Durham Students Union Andy Welch said students were angry about the situation.

students in Liverpool signing protest postcards for MPs
Liverpool student also signed postcards urging their MPs to review funding

"We accept that students should contribute to their education, but the whole policy should be reviewed," he said

NUS President Wes Streeting said the current funding system was "completely unfair".

"All students have to pay £3,145 a year in top-up fees, but they face a postcode lottery when it comes to financial support," he said.

"Richer universities in the Russell Group can offer poorer students an average annual bursary of £1,791, but those from the Million+ group can only offer £680.

“We want a national bursary scheme, so that poorer students get financial support based on how much they need it, not on where they study.

"Students and parents also deserve a full, frank and public debate about the current fees system ahead of a general election before families are saddled with even more debt by those who want to see the cap on fees lifted."

The government needed to stop tinkering with grants and fees every year, he added.

Full and partial grants

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said there was no evidence that students were being put off going to university because of a lack of finance.

"Undergraduates starting degree courses do not have to pay tuition fees before beginning their studies and only start repayments once they have left university and are earning over £15,000 per year, " a spokesman said.

"We are committed to ensuring finance is no barrier to going to university which is why last year we committed to provide two thirds of students with a full or partial grant - a commitment which we will continue to deliver."

Last week, Universities Secretary John Denham announced the government would cut partial grants for middle-income families, after it underestimated the number of poorer students who would be eligible to claim full grants.

It is thought that up to 10% of prospective students - around 40,000 in total - will lose out due to the move.

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