'I am amazed that Labour is bringing in these proposals'

25th July 1997 at 01:00
Potential students do not relish the prospect of debt, reports Jon Salmon

The first wave of potential undergraduates likely to be squeezed by the Government's overhaul of university funding has reacted with a mixture of anger and derision.

Teenagers who see a degree as essential for furthering job prospects said Sir Ron's plans would make a university education the preserve of the middle classes.

Some felt the proposed tuition- fee charges and extended loans would penalise talented youngsters from poorer backgrounds. And they claimed that even those from better-off families would be deterred by the prospect of debts.

Among the gloomier scenarios was that of 15-year-old Siba Matti, from Ealing, west London.

Siba, a pupil at the mixed comprehensive Bishop Ramsey C of E School in Ruislip, Middlesex, said: "People are not going to be able to afford a proper education.

"Consequently, they won't get jobs because they have no decent qualifications. There will be mass unemployment, meaning the system will backfire on the Government which will then have to pay out more in benefit. There will be more violence as a result, too.

"My parents will be able to afford to support me through university, but the plans are unfair on families where they do not have good jobs."

Siba is due to sit her GCSEs next year and is still keen on university as are her two friends Laura Payne and Ann-Marie Veale.

Laura Payne queried the proposed Pounds 16,000-a-year family income level above which an element of the tuition fees is paid by the student.

She believed the level should be higher or many poorer students will face hardship.

She added: "The system will mean that it is the upper, wealthier classes who go to university. That will increase future rivalry between them and the poorer classes."

Julia Smith, 16, of Camden, north London, has just sat her GCSEs and hopes to study A-levels at sixth-form college. She might not go to university if it means substantial debts: "I do not like the idea of owing so much money when I first get a job."

Her parents struggle financially in part-time jobs and Julia, who has just left the mixed comprehensive Ravenscroft School in Whetstone, north London, admits they have little spare money to help her.

However, Julia, who is considering taking a business studies degree, agrees with means-testing of families if Labour's tuition fees scheme is a fait accompli.

Salah Ahmed, 16, who has just sat GCSEs at North Westminster School in north London, and hopes to study A-levels at college, also supports means-testing. But for the overall thrust of Labour's plans, he had one word - "appalling".

Salah, also from Camden and whose father Khalique runs an Indian restaurant, said: "I want to go to university because I want a career in computers.

"But I'm now going to have to get a job in the holidays to save up before I go. Making students pay tuition fees and scrapping maintenance grants is just not right."

Daryl Buley, 16, of Epsom, Surrey, is concerned by the proposed payment and loan changes but admits his parents will help him out.

Daryl, whose mother Carol is a financial manager and father Philip a project manager, studies at Glyn ADT Technology School at Ewell in Surrey, and hopes for a career in computer graphics.

He said:" It's not going to be a problem for me. But my parents are not too happy about it."

But schoolfriend Antony Jones, also 16, of Stoneleigh, Surrey, may well take an apprenticeship rather than go to university.

Antony, who is due to study A-levels in history, business studies and economics, said: "I've got friends who have gone to university and got into debt of around Pounds 3,000. I would be really nervous of owing larger sums of money."

His mother Sadie, a bank official, worries about financial help for both Antony and his twin sister Zena, a pupil at the grant-maintained Rosebery School, Epsom, if they go to university.

She said: "The arrangements are going to deter a lot of families from encouraging academically-suited children from going to university."

Her views were echoed by Clare Miles, 18, who hopes to study philosophy at Lancaster University.

She has just taken four A-levels at the mixed comprehensive Bishop Stopford School in Kettering, Northamptonshire.

Clare, whose elder sister Sarah is already at university, said: "University is about equal opportunity, but this will cut out half of the people who would be eligible and might include the next Einstein."

Her mother, Maureen, a bank cashier, said: "I am amazed that the Labour party is bringing in these proposals."

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