Fees lose their sting

19th May 2000 at 01:00
A FEW weeks ago an Executive spokeswoman was complaining about a lack of publicity for the changes to student support. Changed days, for only a short time earlier ministers could not shake off the media and opposition parties in their pursuit of the tuition fees row. But, according to the Executive, the recent concession by which fourth-year students from south of the border at a Scottish university will not have to pay a fee went virtually unreported.

On Wednesday, the next stage of the restructuring of student support will be announced (page one). One by one the questions posed by the Cubie committee are to be answered in a consultation paper which seeks views on the detail and phasing in of the complex provisions, some of which, like the graduate endowment payments, will depend on legislation next session. The Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning says no student will be poorer andmost will be better off. That assertion will be put to the arithmetic test, especially by the National Union of Students.

However, ministers are more concerned with reasserting the advantages of higher and further education than with the nitty-gritty. Already applications for next session appear to be on the way up after the sticky years of tuition fees. There may be extra pressure on places this autumn as students realise they will face neither fees nor the eventual graduate repayments. Or some may hold back until they can enjoy the extra support available only from autumn 2001.

Further and higher education students will be put on the same basis. The aim is to make transition between the sectors more straightforward and to send out an equality message. But the contrast in student facilities between colleges and universities must make genuine parity of esteem a long-term aspiration.

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