Passionate tales of student hardship

24th September 1999 at 01:00
If the first meeting of the student finance inquiry in Glasgow on Monday night were to determine the committee's findings, maintenance grants would be restored and tuition fees abolished. What is more, the costs would be paid for out of general taxation - not a graduate tax.

If the intention of the hectic schedule of 13 meetings in 10 days is to expose the inquiry team to the passion and anger generated by student funding, expectations were more than fulfiled. The Glasgow meeting gradually took on the appearance of an AA or revivalist gathering. Speaker after speaker , young and old, stood to give their personal testimonies of student poverty, hardship and failure. Debt was the key issue, for parents and as well as students.

By coincidence, it was inquiry chairman Andrew Cubie's sister-in-law who first highlighted the intractable problems that must be tackled. Averil Stewart, convener of the access and hardship fund at Queen Margaret University College, pointed out that mature students with families who receive benefit are unable to draw on the special fund unless they have first secured a loan. But if they take out a loan, they lose benefit.

Mr Cubie has quickly concluded that the issues are "multi-layered, detailed and complex." But he gave an unequivocal assurance that "we will not baulk at making recommendations which have wide implications." It was a clear indication that any knock-on effect for the rest of the UK will be met head on.

The first inkling of how the committee intend balancing the competing demands will come when it publishes a "range of options" in late October, pointing the way to its final report due by Christmas.

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