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Low income students should get lower fees, says think tank

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Low-income students could soon benefit from ‘targeted tuition fees’ after a think tank revealed high fees are preventing students from attending university.

‘Targeted tuition fees’ would allow a spectrum of fee levels for students from different backgrounds, says the report. Low-income students would receive free tuition while affluent students would pay more.

The report, ‘Targeted Tuition Fees: Is means-testing the answer?’, proposes means-tested fees as a middle ground between set fees – which allow universities to have a steady income – and free education – which makes higher education accessible to all.

“Targeted free tuition has some big advantages over both systems with no fees and systems with high fees for all.”

“That is why so many different jurisdictions are independently converging upon it. It is time for a more systematic look at the concept,” said Alex Usher, President of the Higher Education Strategy Associates and co-author of the report.

The policy would enable universities to receive the necessary income to afford resources, while also allowing people with low income to benefit from higher education, explains the UK-based Higher Education Policy Institution (HEPI) and the Canadian Higher Education Strategy Associates (HESA) led paper.

It’s possible the policy could adversely affect mid-income students if they struggle to afford the increased fees. The report does not specify how much extra students should expect to pay if targeted tuition fees are implemented.

Student debt is currently valued at US$1.5 trillion in the US, with the UK set to hit the milestone within 25 years as current attempts to increase accessibility often look towards a cure for high fees rather than prevention of debt.

Current higher education policies to promote inclusiveness in the UK offer grants to offset the cost of tuition, or saddle varying levels of debt depending on predicted graduate earnings in Australia, reported HEPI and HESA.

Targeted fees could help students from low-income backgrounds gain the education they are fully motivated to obtain, without trying and stay afloat with masses of student debt anchoring them down.

“In sum, targeted free tuition has both an attractive political and economic logic: it provides benefits to those who need it without providing windfall gains to those who do not,” wrote the report.

“We do not yet know how far this policy will spread, but its diffusion has already been quite extraordinary.”

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