We need a fairer system for student funding

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STEVE CANAVAN: The case of the 'kitchen' door is open and shut

The recent debate in Parliament on tuition fees generated a great deal of passion – and rightly so. The future of our young people is vitally important, as is the future of higher education.

Universities in Portsmouth, Southampton and Winchester play a key role in educating our young people and supporting our local economy.

But the challenge we face is how to pay for universities when Labour has saddled the country with massive debts.

There are some choices to make. Do we cut the maintenance payments made to young people from low income families? Do we reduce the number of young people going to university? I don't think anyone sensible would support these.

The best option is to replace some of the money paid by every taxpayer with money from those who benefit the most from higher education – graduates earning good salaries. This is the fair approach.

But we need to make sure the amounts paid by students are fair too. That is why students starting university in 2012 will only pay make their loans when they have graduated and are earning over 21,000 – currently the threshold is 15,000. This will be uprated in line with inflation. This doesn't happen at the moment. Those earning the highest salaries will also pay higher interest rates. The payback period will be longer too so the monthly repayments will be 45 per month lower. Our plans mean a fairer system.

Part-time students will benefit too. At the moment they have to pay their fees upfront, but under our plans they will no longer have to do so. But there are some bigger issues to tackle. For instance, not enough young people from low income families go to university.

To help young people from the poorest families go to universities, we will introduce a national scholarship scheme and boost funding for them in our schools.

We need a fairer system of student funding, one that meets the aspirations of students but is affordable. Our plans deliver that.