For students, fee waivers ‘make no sense whatsoever’

Tuition fee waivers should be scrapped in favour of bursaries, according to a former president of the National Union of Students.

November 14, 2011

Wes Streeting, who is now chief executive of education charity the Helena Kennedy Foundation, called for the switch when he delivered the Association of Law Teachers’ annual Lord Upjohn Lecture, in which he argued that plans to lower fees by introducing waivers failed to address problems faced by students from lower-income families.

Instead, financial support should go directly into students’ pockets to help them complete their degrees, he said.

“I can understand why the Treasury might want universities to offer fee waivers instead of bursaries, but from a consumer finance point of view it makes no sense whatsoever,” Mr Streeting told an audience of academics in London on 11 November.

“The sticker price of the course will often bear no relation to the amount that a student will pay because of the income contingent repayment system and debt write off period after 30 years.

“It is shameful that universities have been pressured by the government – through the Office For Fair Access – to cut back on financial support in favour of fee waivers.

“The sector should abandon fee waivers altogether and give students the support they need, when they need it: up front and for those who need it most.”

Mr Streeting, who is a member of the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information, also condemned the government’s decision to axe AimHigher, a national student outreach service targeting teenagers from deprived backgrounds, and to scrap the £30-a-week Education Maintenance Allowance for sixth-form students.

More information and guidance about student finance was also required, he added.

“What the government is attempting is nothing less than the largest big bang reform of tuition fees and student finance ever attempted by any government, anywhere, ever.

“There is a real risk that students could be deterred by myths and misconceptions about the new arrangements.”

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