No more concessions over tuition fees, insists Bell

Students protest about the proposed introduction of tuition fees outside Tynwald last week

Students protest about the proposed introduction of tuition fees outside Tynwald last week

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THERE will be no more concessions over the tuition fees policy, the Chief Minister has insisted.

Allan Bell was speaking after Education Minister Tim Crookall was forced to withdraw his proposal to introduce tuition fees at last week’s Tynwald sitting.

The move came after the Minister offered two further concessions on the original scheme – all students will now be able to access the £2,500 loan regardless of family income and the sliding scale for the means tested contribution will now apply to families with an income above £100,000.

The Council of Ministers’ handling of the issue at Tynwald was described as ‘shambolic’ by some members.

Mr Bell told the Examiner that these concessions, plus two changes announced previously, would reduce the expected £4.3 million savings by more than £1 million.

And he insisted: ‘We can’t make any further concessions.’

Changes to the plan to make students pay a minimum £2,500 a year contribution to university tuition fees came following pressure from the students, parents and Tynwald members.

Having deferred the motion at December’s Tynwald sitting, some revisions to the scheme were announced earlier this month - parents would no longer be jointly liable for the student loan repayments and interest would only accrue once the students has completed their studies.

Mr Bell conceded: ‘I said in the debate that it had turned somewhat messy because of the various changes that were being proposed.

‘Nevertheless, we have worked hard to understand the concerns of the public, the students and other members of Tynwald and have identified a number of changes which we believe will go a long way to satisfying most of these concerns.

‘The value of these concessions is in excess of £1 million which means we will have to find £1 million from elsewhere in government. The public has to understand there is no new money available and this will be put further pressure on other public services.’

Mr Bell said the extra £1 million could not be found from within the Education Department.

He accepted there had been ‘substantial’ savings in the education budget for a number of years and not just the current year - and if the tuition fees proposal did not win Tynwald support, there would have to be cuts to core educational services which he said would be totally ‘unacceptable’.

The Education Minister has warned that drastic alternative measures that would have to be considered include cutting teaching jobs, reducing the school week to four days, raising the age for starting school to six and increasing primary school class sizes would have to be considered.

The revised tuition fees proposal will now go for Tynwald approval next month.

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