In the feature in which experts quizzed politicians about higher education policy (“Answers for everything”, 23 April), the Green Party’s Dave Cocozza refers to the scaling-back or closure of every continuing education department in the UK over the past 10 years. While this is true of most, and it is important to highlight the problem, the University of Oxford’s department for continuing education has managed to thrive. However, this is no thanks to the government. Almost half our public funding was withdrawn by the Labour government’s misguided equivalent or lower qualification policy, which excludes those who wish to retrain or otherwise change course. And similar cuts have been made under the coalition’s austerity policies.
These cuts have forced us to raise fees. It is only the generosity of our friends and supporters that has enabled us to provide bursaries and hardship funding for those unable to pay increased fees.
We have worked hard in other areas, introducing innovative courses, improving efficiency and enhancing our marketing. If the past two governments had not cut adult and lifelong learning so severely, the fruits of these initiatives would be going to a wider group of people. Instead, they are having to make good the cuts.
Greg Clark, the Conservative universities minister, refers to the new loans for postgraduate study, but these will discriminate explicitly against anyone aged over 30.
The next government should reverse the policies that have undermined part-time students, adult learners and lifelong learning. People should be encouraged to study new subjects; the ELQ policy must go. And age discrimination should cease.
Director, Department for continuing education
University of Oxford