AUT call for debt probe

January 30, 2004

The impact of graduate debt on recruitment to academia must be examined urgently, says the Association of University Teachers.

Charles Clarke, education secretary, this week announced a review of the gateways into public-sector professions for graduates who do not qualify for the full £3,000 student support package.

The review, which will report next year, was made as a concession to former Labour rebel Nick Brown in the hours before the vote was taken on the higher education bill. Mr Brown's support was crucial to the bill being passed by Parliament.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the AUT, called for the review to include university professionals.

She said: "In terms of recruitment and the retirement time bomb, the government ought to be looking at the higher education professions as part of the review."

During the second reading of the bill, Mr Clarke told Parliament: "I am commissioning a report next year to examine the gateways into the professions which will look particularly at the position of students who do not qualify for the full £3,000 support package, taking into account the starting point for repayment and the taper. It will examine recruitment of graduates to the public services under the new student finance system."

Mr Clarke said that the government already spent more than £700 million to support the recruitment and retention of teachers, doctors and dentists, nurses, midwives, social workers and other health professionals.

He said that other employers in both the public and private sector should consider similar support schemes.

A source at the Department for Education and Skills confirmed that consideration was being given to thresholds, particularly tapering, which determines the point at which people cease to become eligible for student support.

The source said that much of this was due to the fact the thresholds for eligibility for existing fee waivers and the new fee grant differed and that there was a need to bring them together.

Mr Clarke said that proposals regarding the gateways would be considered in the context of the next comprehensive spending review.

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