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Fears that trainees will face tuition fees

Teacher-training universities are still waiting to hear if their students will remain exempt from the new higher tuition top-up fees.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke this week hinted that the poorest 35 per cent of undergraduates could be exempted from the higher pound;3,000 fees that universities will be able to charge from 2006.

However, there is no indication that postgraduate trainee teachers will escape all of the new pound;3,000 fee, although they are exempt from the current pound;1,125 annual charge. Newly-qualified teachers can also get some of their student debt paid off by the Government if they stay in the profession for several years.

The Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, which represents teacher-training providers, is concerned that levying fees on trainee teachers will hit recruitment. Mary Russell, UCET's secretary, said: "We are particularly anxious about whether the waiver will be extended to pound;3,000 or whether it will remain at pound;1,125. Ideally, we would also want undergraduate teacher trainees to be eligible for the waiver, at the very least in their final year."

Mr Clarke, on a visit to Phoenix high school in west London to promote access to higher education, hinted that the full fee could be waived for the poorest 30 to 35 per cent of students.

But he was challenged by two parent-governors about the debt levels already faced by children at university. Students have to take out loans to cover living costs, as well as pay the pound;1,125 fee.

A DfES spokeswoman added: "Ministers have made clear on a number of occasions that we are currently looking at ways we can best help students from the poorest backgrounds. We are already removing upfront fees, reintroducing the maintenance grant and raising the threshold at which a graduate repays the fee. However, nothing is set in stone. We are still talking to universities about this."

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