Blitz on student places

19th May 2000 at 01:00
Minister to tour schools and colleges with the message that there has never been a better time to study.

MINISTERS are to launch a summer offensive to persuade students and senior pupils of the advantages of further and higher education. The initiative will follow the next stage of the post-

Cubie settlement on Wednesday when the Executive launches a consultation paper that will give more details about student support and ask for views on issues that remain open.

Nicol Stephen, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, who bore much of the brunt of the pressure to end tuition fees, is determined to sell what he now regards as a good deal for students present and future. He will visit schools, colleges and universities before the holidays and in the autumn.

"I don't want the spotlight to shift away now that the issue is not so political," he told The TES Scotland this week. "The investment we are making is good for individual students, good for the development of the knowledge economy as pressure grows for recruits with information technology skills and good for the Scottish economy as a whole."

The consultation paper next week will spell out the Executive's answers to all the recommendations of the Cubie committee which reported last December, although in cases affecting non-devolved social security, action would depend on Westminster.

Legislation will be brought in next session to provide for the new graduate endowment payments which will strt when a graduate's income tops pound;10,000. The first students facing repayment will begin their courses in autumn 2001, when they will become eligible also for the extended system of loans and the access payments for those from low-income families announced in January. Students starting this autumn will not pay fees but neither will they face repayments.

Mr Stephen says that it appears "fairest and cleanest" to make the sweeping changes in one go but ministers will listen to any representations for an interim system of provision. Separate consultation will consider how postgraduate students should be supported.

There will be no changes to the most controversial decisions taken in January. Criticisms of the pound;10,000 kick-in for repayments have gone unheeded. So have the widespread attacks on tuition fees that still have to be paid by Scottish students at English universities.

Ministers maintain that European regulations prevent any change, but Mr Stephen pledges to see whether help can be given where a course is available only south of the border.

He is adamant that no student will be worse off and says most will benefit - a student from a family on an income of pound;15,000 will be eligible for pound;4,225 in loan support compared with pound;3,725 in England and Wales.

"With pound;50 million being invested and no one paying more than at present, we have a powerful message that should encourage student enrolments and help meet the targets for expansion of both further and higher education."

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