Dearing considers savings scheme

June 27, 1997

Students may be encouraged to "get the Abbey habit" under funding plans to be put forward by Sir Ron Dearing's inquiry.

The Abbey National bank has taken part in consultation workshops held by Sir Ron's committee on proposals for a higher education savings plan, to help students cover their living costs and course fees.

It is one of several banks and building societies which have been looking into the practicalities of the idea, based on existing tax-exempt Tessas or PEPs.

Andrew Pople, managing director of Abbey National's retail bank and a member of the funding group of the Dearing inquiry, stressed that talks had not yet reached the formal consultation stage. But he added: "I am sure the Abbey National, along with other financial services institutions, will be very interested in working with the Government to develop this idea."

Mr Pople said the committee had been considering several possible models for the scheme, which could either sit alongside or supplement individual savings accounts.

"For it to work, it would have to be packaged in a form which would be popular. That is why it would have to be something straightforward, like a Tessa," he said.

Savings accounts could be opened by parents for their children, and built up to help them pay their way through higher education, including fees that could amount to Pounds 1,000 a year or more.

Sir Ron's committee is hoping the plan will appeal to middle-class parents as a tax-free savings system that would help them avoid big contributions once their children start university.

Poorer students would still qualify for grants, while employees would be able to open a "learning account" which might attract contributions from employers.

Sources close to the committee said that primary legislation could be needed to set up the plan.

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