Independent experts step in to clear up fees confusion

An independent taskforce headed by the founder of a popular personal finance website has been set up to tackle the “myths and misunderstandings” of the new system of student fees and loans due to come into force in September 2012.

June 17, 2011

The initiative, led by Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert.com and Wes Streeting, former president of the National Union of Students, will attempt to stop people being deterred from applying to university as a result of confusion about the new arrangements.

Mr Lewis said he was “no fan of the changes” but warned there was a risk that more damage was being done “by the crossfire of political spittle that's left many future students and their parents confused and scared - often for the wrong reasons”.

“These changes are now happening, so we must explain the real impact on the pounds in students’ pockets,” he said.

He said prospective students needed to understand clear facts – both good and bad – about the system. These included the point that monthly repayments would be the same for graduates whether their fees had been £6,000 or £9,000 but also that they would likely owe money for much longer and pay more across their lifetime than under the present system.

Mr Streeting, NUS president from 2008 to 2010 and now chief executive of the Helena Kennedy Foundation, said he wanted to play a part despite being a long-time campaigner against tuition fees because it was “vital” to allow students and parents to make informed choices.

“If potential students are deterred by higher fees, the government will need to rethink its policy. But the tragedy of students, particularly from poorer backgrounds, being deterred because of myths and misconceptions is one that can be easily avoided if we all play our part,” he said.

The Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information will be made up of representatives from the NUS, the National Association of Student Money Advisers, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, Universities UK and GuildHE.

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said he gave his “full support” to the taskforce.

“This independent group has the expertise and reach to communicate to a huge number of prospective students, families and teachers as well as to universities. The group will be well resourced by the sector and we will be listening to what it says.”

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

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