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Norwich teens fear fees increase will close university door

The Hewett School students reaction to Browne Review of higher education funding and University tuition fees. Left to right, Benjamin Murphy 15, Solomon Nichol-Hill 15, Tom Westmacott-Verran 15 and Elenor Prior 15.

The Hewett School students reaction to Browne Review of higher education funding and University tuition fees. Left to right, Benjamin Murphy 15, Solomon Nichol-Hill 15, Tom Westmacott-Verran 15 and Elenor Prior 15.

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2010

Norwich’s next generation of potential university students warned that the proposal to make the cost of higher education unlimited could put many people off from applying.

Yesterday, former BP boss Lord Browne published a controversial review of university funding, including a proposal to abolish the cap on tuition fees, which currently cannot exceed £3,250 per year.

He wants the fees to be remain repayable only after graduating - and suggests raising the level at which graduates begin to pay back the money from the current £15,000 annual salary to £21,000.

Critics fear the removal of the cap could mean debts of anything from £50,000 to £100,000 for future graduates.

But supporters welcome the fact that he suggested that part-time undergraduates should have access to the loans system for the first time, while also proposing the removal of the means test qualification for maintenance loans.

At The Hewett School on Cecil Road in Lakenham, Norwich, the package was not popular with year 11 students, who would be among the first people to face higher fees if the regime changed.

Tom Westmacott-Verran, 15, said: “I think it’s completely ridiculous. Personally I was thinking of maybe going to Oxford, but I won’t be able to afford it if it starts going up to £12,000 a year. You’re not going to be able to afford to go to the better universities.”

Eleanor Prior, 15, who wants to study engineering and management at university, said: “I don’t think the plans have been very well thought through. I think a lot of people are going to be put off because they are not going to be able to afford it.”

Benjamin Murphy, 15, a year 11 student at the Hewett School, who wants to become a surgeon or neuro-surgeon, said: “I think it’s stupid because the courses I want to do are between seven and 11 years. It’s a lot of money. It will put off those who haven’t got the money to go. It’s going to be harder to get up the hierarchy.”

Solomon Nichol-Hill, 15, said: “I just think it’s ridiculous. I know people who are going to pay and its going to cost them £50 a week for accommodation, £50 a week for food and up to £12,000 a year for fees.”

Rob Anthony, the school’s executive headteacher, said: “We’re very worried about the plans. I’m concerned that it might well price students out of a university education or restrict access to certain universities which put their fees up too high.”

Higher education leaders, including Norwich University College of the Arts principal John Last and City College Norwich principal Dick Palmer, plus a spokesman for the University of East Anglia (UEA), agreed that it was “too early” to comment in detail on the plans, which could form a large part of proposals to parliament from the government within a few months,

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said the proposals showed “a lot of careful thought”.

Norwich South MP Simon Wright signed a pre-election pledge to oppose any increase in fees. It is thought his stance played a key role in encouraging some UEA students to vote for him and help him secure a narrow victory over Charles Clarke.

Tom Dolton, communications officer for the Union of UEA Students, said: “Students at UEA who lent their votes to Simon Wright placed their trust in this candidate because of his stance on tuition fees, and we sincerely hope that he honours his pledge to vote against any rise in fees.

“Lord Browne’s recommendations, if put in place, will result in students graduating with an astronomical amount of debt which will take decades for them to pay off.”

Mr Wright would not say whether he supported the proposed increase, but was generally positive about Lord Browne’s ideas.

He said: “The government has a few weeks to consider this report and to assess how the overall package will impact on students, universities and taxpayers.

“I’m particularly keen to understand what impact these proposals would have on social mobility. It’s always been my fear that greater debt would put off people from poorer backgrounds.”

He said he had lined up a meeting with UEA’s student union at the weekend, and added: “I’m anxious that we don’t get too hung up on the size of the fee. In principal I support free education, but we are not going to get to that point during this parliament. The next best thing is to get the best deal possible for students.”

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