Tynwald vote on tuition fees will be close

MINISTER: Tim Crookall MHK

MINISTER: Tim Crookall MHK

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EDUCATION Minister Tim Crookall has admitted the Tynwald vote on his proposals to intoduce university tuition fees ‘will still be close’.

Members will finally vote on the proposals at this month’s sitting, after the Student Award Regulations were postponed from the December sitting and then withdrawn from the January session.

The Minister said he ‘can’t guarantee’ the changes would receive the necessary support, but he has again made it clear that he will not be offering any further concessions.

Along with department officers, he met with concerned parents and students from all the island’s secondary schools to try and allay their concerns.

And this week gave a briefing on the latest proposals to Tynwald members, with nearly all of them attending.

‘They have a much better understanding of it now,’ he said.

At last month’s sitting he was forced to withdraw the proposal after concerns that members were given little time to consider the implications of two further concessions, and were having to vote on the regulations as set out in the order paper.

Mr Crookall admitted last month’s sitting ‘did get a bit messy’ with the concessions being finalised only that lunchtime.

‘That’s why I was reasonably happy for it to be withdrawn on the day so we could get clarification for Tynwald, rather than pushing it through in January.’

In the House of Keys last week, Michael MHK Alfred Cannan claimed means testing over tuition fees was a stealth tax on high income earners.

Mr Crookall MHK insisted the proposals were the ‘best system available to us’, and would protect the department’s statutory obligations.

He said there would always be someone who felt hard hit.

Under the proposals, all students would make a universal contribution of £2,500 a year towards the cost of higher education from 2014.

This would be supported by a Treasury loan system.

The first two amendments to the scheme would defer the accrual of interest charges until graduation, and removed the requirement for parental loan guarantees.

At the January sitting, the Minister made two further concessions.

All students would be able to access the £2,500 loan, regardless of their family income.

And the sliding scale for the means tested contribution would apply to families with an income above £100,000, not £80,000.

When it was up and running, the annual saving the DEC expects would be £4.38m a year.

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