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Rules revised on fee waivers

Support for colleges that waive fees for students from poorer families is to be streamlined.

The FE funding council has clarified the position for part-time students who are not receiving the benefit that would qualify them for support. It is also introducing a carer's allowance for the first time.

In the next academic year, fees will be waived for students from a one-person household whose taxable income is below pound;6,300, or for a couple with no children on an income of less than pound;10,300 or where a family with dependent children earns less than pound;15,000.

Colleges are free to set their own policies on waiving fees. But anything outwith the income levels set by the council will have to be met from colleges' own budgets and cannot be reclaimed from the council's fee waiver grant.

Fees range from pound;1,125 a year for a full-time higher education course to pound;880 for a full-time FE course. Part-timers are charged the equivalent of pound;1.65 an hour for an HE course and pound;1.24 an hour in FE.

In a circular to colleges, the funding council says the new thresholds should be easier to apply "and will ensure that students on a low income wishing to undertake a part-time programme, but who are not in receipt of the qualifying benefits, can still be eligible for a fee waiver".

Colleges believe fee waivers, which cost pound;44 million this year, are a highly efficient means of attracting students from disadvantaged and low income backgrounds - and that individual learning accounts, designed for the same purpose, are superfluous and bureaucratic.

The funding council has also approved the introduction of a carer's allowance, which will be means tested and apply to any would-be student over the age of 16 caring for a person who is severely disabled for at least 35 hours a week.

It emphasises that the benefit is for the carer not the disabled person and students must not be in full-time education and be on a low income.

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