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NUS secures agreement to limit student liability

By Aaron Porter, NUS President, and Usman Ali, Vice President (Higher Education)

Thursday 12 May 2011 NUS News

We wanted to let you know about an issue we have been pursuing with the Government with regards to student liability in the new fees system.

Under current arrangements, a student's liability for tuition fees might not match with their entitlement to a student loan to pay them.  We are pleased to announce therefore that NUS has secured agreement from the Government that will ensure their entitlement matches their liability, as long as a student is eligible for student support overall.

What’s the actual problem?

At present, tuition fee loans are paid to universities if the student is in attendance at that institution on 15 December - but the university is able to charge the student the full fee as soon as they start on the course.

Although most will reduce the fee liability on a pro-rata basis if the student leaves the course midway through the year - and guidance from Universities UK recommends this practice - it is still legal to charge the full amount even if the student is on the course for a matter of days.  If they leave before 15 December, they may not be able to receive a student loan for any fee liability they are deemed to have.

This is of course unfair when fees are at their current level - but it has the potential to cause severe hardship and debt problems if the fee was £9,000.

So, what is it that NUS has won?

After raising this issue with the Government we are delighted that they have now announced that, subject to parliamentary approval, their policy will be to restrict liability for fees to 25% in the first term, 50% in the second, and then 100% in the third. Students will then be able to access a fee loan whatever their liability is.

Not only does this provide security for students, but it also helps universities as their fee loan income will come in three instalments, helping smooth out cash flow issues that might otherwise have arisen.  It's a sensible policy that benefits both students and the HE sector.

We are more than aware that many of you, like us, continue to object to the fee system.  However, we also believe that it is important that we are able to extend and defend student’s rights within the system.  Whilst to some this victory may not look like much, we know that it will make a dramatic difference too many students’ lives.

If you want to know more about this policy issue – please contact David Malcolm, Head of Social Policy who will be more than happy to answer your queries.