UEA backs big hike in fees

Norfolk's biggest university appeared to back a big increase in tuition fees last night as some of its students piled pressure on a Norwich MP to keep his promise to vote against such a move.

The University of East Anglia (UEA) made positive noises in response to the government's announcement that it will introduce legislation by the end of the year to increase maximum annual fees of �9,000 per year from 2012.

Universities minister David Willetts said the fees cap would be lifted from the current �3,290 to �6,000 - or up to �9,000 if higher education institutions met conditions on widening access to student from poorer backgrounds.

He said no student would have to begin repaying the fees until they were earning at least �21,000 a year - up from the current �15,000 trigger point.

He added that interest rates on student loans would make repayments more expensive for higher-paid graduates, in what the government described as a system with a 'progressive taper'.

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Mr Willetts also said that 'a quarter of graduates - those on the lowest incomes' would pay less overall than they did at present. And, for the first time, he said part-time students would be able to claim grants.

The decision to raise tuition fees was widely expected after it was recommended in Lord Browne's recent review of higher education funding - and signals the government's intention to re-balance the system so that students, not taxpayers, finance a greater proportion of the sector.

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A UEA spokesman welcomed the announcement, which came shortly after the government announced huge cuts to funding for universities.

'The proposals ensure that no student has to pay tuition fees up front, provide for increased maintenance grants for less advantaged students, and for the first time, see the introduction of financial support for part-time students. Without these proposals there is a threat to the high student satisfaction we are currently able to offer.'

The spokesman added: 'Widening participation and fair access are hugely important to us and we will continue to encourage young people to consider higher education and the options available to them.'

No-one from Norwich University College of the Arts (Nuca) or University College Suffolk was available to comment.

Norfolk students were less impressed, though, as they yesterday delivered more than a thousand post-cards to Norwich South Liberal Democrat MP Simon Wright's office - to remind him of his general election pledge to vote against tuition fee rises.

About 30 students from UEA, City College Norwich and Nuca gathered in Europa Way, Norwich.

Student union communications officer Tom Dolton said: 'At the last election the number of students who voted increased from 600 to 1,600. Given that Simon Wright won his seat by about 300 votes, it is fair to say that we played a key role in getting him elected in Norwich South.

'The students and voters of Norwich South backed Simon because he supported the pledge, if he withdraws his support I am in no doubt that the students and voters will take their vote back.'

Mr Wright said he had not yet decided whether to vote in favour of the proposals and said that under the coalition agreement he had the right to abstain. He said he would be looking closely at the implications before making a decision.

He added: 'I campaigned on the basis that we should phase out tuition fees completely and I still believe that is the right thing to do. But I also realise that in the current climate that is not achievable.

'I think the current proposals are fairer than we would have seen under a Labour government or under a solely Conservative administration.'

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