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Tuition fees should be mean tested, says charity

Means-tested tuition fees should be introduced so that poorer students borrow less, according to a new social mobility manifesto from the Sutton Trust.

The document also calls for more use of contextual data in admissions and a new body, separate from individual universities, to coordinate evidence-based outreach programmes.

The 12-page manifesto, which covers early years through to higher education and apprenticeships, makes a series of recommendations about fairer admissions to comprehensives, grammar schools, independent schools and elite universities. These include a revival of the old “assisted places” scheme, which paid for able state school pupils to attend independent schools. Private schools participating in the new “open access” programme would receive the same per-pupil funding as state schools and charge fees on a means-tested basis.

It also recommends means-tested university fees, citing a poll that showed more than half of adults supported students from poorer families being charged a lower tuition fee than other students.

The document proposes a national body to replace the disbanded AimHigher programme which supported access to HE initiatives. It says the current lack of  co-ordination had “hindered the reach of such access initiatives, with some schools and students receiving multiple interventions and others none”.

Dr Lee Elliot Major, Sutton Trust director of policy and development at the Sutton Trust, which runs summer schools for bright teenagers who are thinking of applying to university, said: “We need changes too to ensure fair access to grammar schools, independent schools and elite universities."