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This year's students safe from fees hike

Would-be students who submitted their applications for university places by Wednesday's deadline need not fear a sudden increase in the amount they or their parents have to pay.

Next week's higher education review paper will certainly propose that students should contribute more to their university education, probably up to pound;3,000 a year.

It will even allow universities to set different levels of "top-up" fees, although perhaps only if they introduce a package to help low-income students at the same time. But the bulk of any payments will be deferred until after graduation, either through repayable loans or a graduate tax.

And the new financial arrangements will not be introduced until after the next election, likely to take place in 2005. It is not yet clear if paving legislation will be introduced before then.

The current regime of loans and pound;1,100 tuition fees, paid in full by only 40 per cent of students, will remain for the time being.

One change certain to be included in the review paper is the reintroduction of maintenance grants for low-income students. This will involve an extension of educational maintenance allowances of pound;40 a week, currently being introduced for 16 to 19-year-olds, to university students.

Margaret Hodge, the higher education minister, said the paper will contain "a really powerful, radical and positive set of proposals to enhance the status of higher education". But she angered students by saying that the target of getting half of under-30s into higher education by 2010 must not be met simply by expanding "mickey mouse" courses.

Most of the expansion would come in two-year, vocational, foundation degrees, she told a seminar organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research in London.

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