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Top-up fees 'disaster' for teacher training

Trainers warn that fear of huge debts will damage recruitment to the profession

TOP-UP fees for university students could have a disastrous effect on recruitment to teacher training, according to the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers.

Undergraduates on teaching courses, who already miss out on recruitment incentives such as pound;6,000 training bursaries, would be particularly badly hit. This year, around 7,800 students started three or four-year teaching degrees, mostly in primary.

Women and science graduates could also be put off teacher training by the threat of debt and tuition payments, say academics.

Most students have to take out loans to cover their living costs and, since 1998, have contributed towards course costs via tuition fees, currently pound;1,100 a year.

These are not enough to plug the universities' pound;10 billion funding gap, but increasing them is controversial. Students marched in protest against top-up fees last week, and the issue has become a political minefield for the Government which is due to report on the issue in the new year.

The current tuition fee is waived for one-year postgraduate trainee teachers, who also receive a pound;6,000 bursary. But undergraduate trainees have to pay the pound;1,100 and do not receive a bursary.

TES columnist Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, fears top-up fees could put women off teaching, as childcare responsibilities contribute to a shorter working life with less time to pay off extra debt.

And if universities are given the flexibility to charge variable top-up fees, reflecting the true cost of different kinds of subjects, then science teachers could become even harder to find.

Other options being considered are: deferred payment of tuition fees after graduation, a graduate tax, or a combination.

The Teacher Training Agency said it was in discussion with the Government over the impact of student finance reform and recruitment to teaching.

Universities UK, which represents higher education institutions, says student numbers have doubled while funding has fallen 37 per cent, and lecturers have seen their pay fall behind comparable professionals, including teachers, leading to recruitment and retention problems.

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