Plans to allow universities to triple tuition fees and charge students up to £9,000 a year have left the Government facing its biggest test of coalition unity.
Universities said they will be left with no choice but to massively increase fees as they face huge cuts in Government funding.
Students – who face leaving university with debts of more than £35,000 once loans for living expenses are included – condemned the plans as “outrageous” and warned Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to expect an electoral “backlash”, while Ministers faced unease from both sides of the coalition as well as opposition from Labour.
The Government insisted its plans to increase the cap on fees from the current £3,290 a year would put university funding on a sustainable footing and said it was being progressive because students will only have to start repaying when they earn £21,000 – up from £15,000 at the moment – and charging a higher interest rate for big earners.
But it left Prime Minister David Cameron facing his first major rebellion as a string of Liberal Democrats – including Leeds West MP Greg Mulholland and former party leader Charles Kennedy – said they would not break an election pledge to oppose any increase in fees, although Ministers are confident the measures will get through the House of Commons.
Universities Minister David Willetts said the increase in fees – to be introduced in time for the 2012/13 year – was a “good deal for universities and for students”, with those who charge £9,000 having to ensure access for disadvantaged students.
For the first time, students will be charged a real rate of interest once they earn enough to repay, paying up to three per cent over the higher Retail Price Index rate of inflation.
Accountants in Grant Thornton’s Leeds office said a student earning £40,000 could end up repaying nearly £32,000 for fees alone over 20 years – not including the extra £10,000 once loans for living expenses are taken into account.
This will dash many young people’s dreams with many opting out of the education system early or relying on parental help to ease the burden but it does represent brutal free market choice.
Author: Pete Arkwright
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