Govt set to confront student fees furore

The Government has drafted in Consolidated Communications to counter criticism of university top-up fees, due to kick in next year.

The Department for Education & Skills is believed to be paying Consolidated £125,000 for the brief.

Consolidated has begun work on an eight-month campaign for the DfES to 'raise awareness of the new financial arrangements for students that come into force in 2006'.

A scramble for university places for the last academic year before the fees are introduced has already seen around 25,000 more home students apply than last year.

Consolidated board director Paul Davies said: 'Our main task is to educate people about the funding changes which, given their significance, will be under the spotlight for next year's applicants.'

Student top-up fees were one of the hot topics of May's General Election.

During the campaign, education secretary Ruth Kelly pledged to peg the maximum £3,000 annual top-up fee to inflation for the next four years.

Kelly's promise helped to neutralise what has been a divisive issue for Labour and its supporters before and during the election.

The party pledged in its 2001 manifesto not to introduce top-up fees.

But the spiralling cost of higher education and pressure from universities to be allowed to levy ever-higher fees to meet their costs is likely to weigh more heavily more on parents' minds when students have to start paying the charges from 2006.

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