09/09/2011 05:57 BST | Updated 08/11/2011 05:12 GMT

Tuition Fees Crushing Students' Dreams Of University, Union Leader Warns

Higher tuition fees and funding cuts are "crushing" many students' dreams of university, a union leader warned.

Alice Robinson, the new president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), accused the Government of failing to put students' needs first.

"The Government is putting political dogma above universal access to the highest quality education provision based on the needs of students," she said. "Many students are having their dreams and aspirations to higher education crushed as they see the cost spiralling out of their grasp.

"Ending the education maintenance allowance makes taking even the first tentative steps towards higher education that much more difficult. It will mean even more students will need to work to fund their post 16 studies, putting them at a disadvantage that has nothing to do with academic ability."

The EMA, a weekly payment of between £10 and £30 given to the poorest teenagers to help them stay in education, was controversially scrapped by ministers and replaced by a new initiative earlier this year.

Ms Robinson's comments come as a report by the CentreForum think tank raised concerns about penalising students who pay off their tuition fee loans early. It has been suggested that under the new tuition fee system, which will see fees at English universities triple to up to £9,000 a year, students who pay back their fee loans early could face a financial penalty.

But the CentreForum report concludes that this would not be appropriate. The main reason students pay back their loans earlier is not because they are rich, but because they are "debt averse".

Students who are very rich will simply pay their fees upfront and bypass the loans system altogether, it suggests.

"Most early repayments are small, and made by relatively poor graduates," it says."Debt aversion, not affluence, is the biggest cause of early repayments."

The Government is currently consulting on methods of early repayment.