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Charm offensive over fees begins

The Government is explaining why it's good to pay to learn. Ben Russell reports.

Thousands of pupils in schools and colleges will get a leaflet this week, explaining how university tuition fees will affect them.

The eight-page guide is the first part of a Department for Education and Employment campaign launched to convince people they should not fear plans to charge up to Pounds 1,000 a year for higher education, abolish grants and reform the student loans system.

Leaflets are going out to all schools and colleges to allay the fears that have prompted an extra 35,000 students to seek a university place this year. Last week Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett admitted the plan could have been better presented, and attacked reports for focusing on the prospect of graduates leaving university with Pounds 10,000 debts.

But the National Union of Students warned that little was known about the psychology of debt and the extent to which people - especially those on low incomes - will avoid running up large debts.

Universities, which have heavily over-recruited this year, are anticipating a drop in applicants for 1998 when the first fees are charged.

Mr Blunkett insisted that fees, payable up front, would be reduced or eliminated for those from low income backgrounds, a significant concession, he said, to stop people being deterred from entering university.

He would prefer students to think long-term and consider their loans as a contribution over many years to their education and their future career.

That is exactly the right approach, according to David Nicholson, head of mortgage marketing for the Halifax, Britain's largest building society which has just become a bank.

Mr Nicholson and his colleagues in the other high-street lenders, have devoted years to persuading people to borrow very large sums.

He said: "With a mortgage, people can see the tangible benefits of the money; it's a roof over your head and people can see the value of the investment in bricks and mortar.

"If people thought of an education in terms of an investment and thought about the value it could give them it would not be very different. People who have been through higher education may be more secure because they may be higher earners and be more flexible."

The new publicity sent to students this week stops short of the aspirational marketing favoured by the banks and building societies. It focuses on the benefits of the system, stressing that repayments will be lower, that parents will not have high up-front costs, and that more money will be available for access courses.

And it says that "no one will be prevented from entering higher education because of their financial circumstances," stressing that graduates earn 20 per cent more than non-graduates when they do start work.

Repaying loans, page 29

Personal Finance, TES2, page 24

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