Shattered dreams

October 24, 1997

CONFUSION about who will be exempt from fees and the fear of debt appear to be the two main deterrents behind the fall in university applications for 1998/99.

A-level students at Bradford and Ilkley Community College are angry. Tanya Johnson, 18, had intended to read law but is now having grave doubts. "I'll make the decision when I find out whether I am exempt from fees," she said.

Ms Johnson is already working 20 hours a week to support her studies and is getting behind as a result. She has no idea how to find out whether she will need to pay university tuition fees and is equally concerned about the declining maintenance grant. "At my age, I don't want to start getting into debt." All her friends shared her anxieties.

Phillip Howe wants to study creative visualisation at Teesside. "I'll probably be exempt from fees but we just don't know what's going on at the moment," he said.

Richard Miller, 17, does not think he will be exempt from fees. "So I'm not going to university any more. As soon as I heard about the fees I knew it was over for me."

Maura Wilson, head of education at the college, was incredulous at the lack of guidance about the new arrangements.

She feels powerless to help her students. "They know that even if they are exempt from fees they will still need to take substantial loans out because the grant is being removed," she said. "If the college had some clear information we could possibly overcome some of the students' worries."

Student union president Mark Tweedale is drawing up a petition against fees which no one has refused to sign.

Clive Linnett, head of access at the college, is faced with a 30 per cent drop in students this year. "Many older students are now quite firm that they can not progress into higher education because of debt," he said.

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