Plans to charge up to £9,000 per year

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By Thornbury People | Thursday, November 04, 2010, 07:00

THERE are fears that government plans to allow universities to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees could price all but the wealthiest out of top institutions like Bristol.

Universities Minister David Willets revealed from 2012 institutions will be able to almost double the current £3,290 charge to £6,000.

But they will be able to charge up to £9,000 if they can show they are increasing take-up among poor students.

Graduates will begin paying that back once their earnings hit £21,000 a year, repaying at a rate of nine per cent of their income above that level but anyone attempting to clear the sum early will be penalised.

Mr Willets added: “Raising the threshold reduces the monthly repayments for every single graduate.

“It is important that those on the highest incomes are not able to buy themselves out of this system.”

While the news went down well in the corridors of power at Bristol University, critics say the massive hike will deter students from middle income homes and those that do sign up for courses will not get anything extra for their cash as the money raised will simply be used to plug the massive cuts in funding unveiled by the Government last month.

Liberal Democrats were also warned to stick to their election pledges to vote against any increase in fees or face a furious backlash.

Stephen Williams, Bristol West, and Steve Webb, Thornbury and Yate, signed pledges to vote against removing the cap on what universities can charge while the party went further still in its manifesto, promising to eventually scrap fees altogether.

Labour’s Kerry McCarthy, Bristol East MP, said: “All this massive increase will do is plug the 80 per cent cut in funding announced by the Government for universities. It will not give universities any extra funding and I worry about what it will do for universities like UWE.

“The Government is cutting funding for arts courses and focusing on science, engineering and maths.

“What about the fantastic courses at UWE for things like animation, working with Aardman, which leads to fantastic jobs? It also looks like students from middle income families are going to be hit hardest by these changes. The richest will be able to pay them up front and the poorest will be helped but those in the middle will struggle.

“The Lib Dems signed a pledge against any tuition fee increases. This change is completely indefensible.”

Mr Webb failed to return calls from the

Mr Williams, MP for Bristol West, the constituency that contains the city’s university, was the Lib Dem spokesman on higher education before the party went into coalition with the Conservatives.

But despite his previous opposition to tuition fees – he was pictured holding a pledge card promising to vote against an increase – he has significantly back- tracked over recent weeks insisting his main concern was achieving a system that protected poorer students.

Mr Williams said: “The key thing about the pledge is that it had two parts to it. It also said I would work for a fairer system and what has been proposed is a much fairer system. I have to work within the constraints of the system we are in. The package on the table is a good one.”

He also praised Mr Willets for creating a scheme with “many progressive elements” within it.

Maintenance grants for students from families with an income below £25,000 will go up from £2,900 to £3,250 a year and families earning up to £42,000 will have some form of partial payment.

On the proposals, Professor Eric Thomas, vice- chancellor of the University of Bristol, said: “In view of the scale of cuts to the public funding of higher education, this is welcome news.”

NUS President Aaron Porter said Liberal Democrat MPs who were going to ditch their election pledge to vote against any rise in fees should be “ashamed of themselves”. He added: “The Government have completely failed to explain what students would receive in return for higher fees other than higher debts. These dangerous proposals risk pricing students out of elite universities and saddling a generation with huge debts.”

Earlier this week, the

The paper claimed that 8.9 per cent of graduates leaving university last year, around 21,000, were without a job six months later. The statistics are based on a study by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU).

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