May launches review of high UK university fees, promising fairer deal

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2018
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May launches review of high UK university fees, promising fairer deal

LONDON: Britain could reduce the burden of university fees on students and bring back grants for their living expenses, Prime Minister Theresa May will say on Monday, under pressure to lure younger voters a year after they cost her parliamentary majority.
May’s predecessor David Cameron, a fellow Conservative, tripled the cost of tuition for students from England and Wales to 9,000 pounds a year ($12,640), many times higher than the fees other EU countries charge their citizens. In 2016, the government also phased out all grants to help poorer students with living costs, replacing them with loans.
The opposition Labour Party says it wants to eliminate student fees and restore grants.
May’s Conservatives, or Tories, have long defended their approach, arguing that requiring students to pay helps fund more places so more people can study, and puts more of the burden of the cost of higher education on those who benefit most from it.
Students do not have to make payments on their loans unless they earn above a minimum threshold, although they continue to accrue interest. Unpaid balances are wiped out after 30 years.
But the system is extremely unpopular with younger voters, angry about being the first British generation to start their careers carrying tens of thousands of pounds of debt. Young people voted heavily against the Conservatives in an election last year that surprisingly erased May’s majority, forcing her to form a minority government.
May will acknowledge that Britain now has “one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world,” and pledge to make it fairer, according to excerpts from her speech released in advance by her office.
“All but a handful of universities charge the maximum possible fees for undergraduate courses. Three-year courses remain the norm. And the level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the course,” she will say.
The review “will examine how we can give people from disadvantaged backgrounds an equal chance to succeed,” including looking at grants for poor students, her office said.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said on Sunday that students could be charged variable tuition rates depending on the economic value of degrees in the subjects they study.
“What we need to look at is the different aspects of pricing, so the cost to put on the course, the value it is to the student and also the value to our society as a whole and to our economy for the future,” he told BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
The opposition said such a system would only serve to lock poor students out of the best-paid professions.
“Charging more for the courses that help graduates earn the most would put off students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds from getting those same qualifications,” Labour education spokeswoman Angela Rayner said on Twitter.
“So much for the PM’s talk about social mobility. The Tories really haven’t grasped the reality of social mobility.”
Earlier on Sunday, a parliamentary committee said the government should cut the interest rate it charges on student loans, which are pegged at 3 percentage points above retail price inflation. The current rate of 6.1 percent is higher than most banks charge for mortgages or unsecured personal loans.
The British parliament’s Treasury Committee said the use of RPI as a benchmark was unfair, and the 3 percentage point premium introduced in 2012 was hard to justify.
“The government must reconsider the use of high interest rates on student loans,” said Nicky Morgan, Conservative chair of the cross-party committee. ($1 = 0.7120 pounds)


Philippines may become region’s ‘defense industry hub’

Updated 25 min 53 sec ago
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Philippines may become region’s ‘defense industry hub’

  • Israel wants to manufacture UAVs in the Philippines
  • Russia and South Korea looking for arms and defense manufacturing facilities

MANILA: The Philippines may become the region’s defense industry hub after several countries expressed an interest in basing their arms and defense manufacturing facilities in the country.

Among the facilities are firearms and force protection plants, as well as ones for aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul.

Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson, Arsenio Andolong, cited at least three countries — Israel, Russia and South Korea — as among those with a keen interest to undertake such projects.

However no agreement has been signed yet and proposals are still in the exploratory stage, Andolong said.

There are plans, however, to create a zone processing defense material at the 370-hectare Government Arsenal (GA) in Limay, Bataan. It will be called the Government Arsenal Defense Industrial Economic Zone (GADIEZ), which will accommodate foreign defense firms that want to establish their manufacturing plants in the Philippines.

With Israel, negotiations have been ongoing. “It all began when we purchased our latest acquisitions from them, the force protection equipment during the time of (then Defense Secretary Voltaire) Gazmin,” Andolong said.

“They became more aggressive when we started doing market research for the many things that we wanted. In one of our meetings the plan to put up an export processing zone for war materiel was discussed and that’s when they expressed interest,” he said.

But Israel now changed its focus; they now want to enter into partnership with Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation.

An agreement has yet to be signed however between the Philippine government and an Israeli firm for its entry through aircraft repair.

“I think eventually it will lead to setting up a UAV manufacturing facility,” a highly placed source said.

Russia, meanwhile, is more likely to have a firearms factory in Bataan province, in central Lozun region.

That is despite the ceremonial signing of a Letter of Intent (LoI) of Silver Shadow Advanced Security Systems (SASS) and Rayo Illuminar Corporation (RIC) to “explore opportunities in the manufacturing and refurbishment of small arms and ammunition,” during Duterte’s recent visit to Israel. The project is estimated to be worth $50 million.

Russia, according to Andolong, has been sending representatives to the country to discuss their offer for a joint production facility to produce Russian assault rifles, or AK47s.

“The Russians verbally communicated that they would like to go into a partnership with the GA to manufacture AK47 rifles in the Philippines. But at this time it’s still a verbal proposal. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has required them to submit a feasibility study.”

A proposal by a South Korean firm that also wanted to set up a firearms factory in the Philippines was put on hold after they gave terms and conditions that were not acceptable — such as “there will be capitalization from the government.”

“So everything is still fluid but Russia is in the running because they are offering many nice goodies,” the DND spokesperson said. “Like the submarines, for example; they said if the Philippines can’t afford to purchase then they can give a soft loan to finance it. And they also mentioned about packages they can use to start up the business.”

Andolong said that the reason that these countries chose the Philippines to set up their facilities was mainly because “they want to create a hub here in the Southeast since they don’t have a presence here yet.”

“It may also be “because of our location. Aside from that we are I think the first Southeast Asian country who offered this,” he said.

“The Philippines is close to many potential markets of Russia and Israel, because these two countries, their main exports really are armaments and they have no footprint in this region,” he said.