While we welcome Lord Mandelson's recent speech outlining his support for mature students, part-time education and the work of The Open University and Birkbeck, University of London, we wonder whether he realises that the mechanisms allowing the kinds of university entry and teaching he favours are being dismantled by his own department.
Continuing education has a strong record in attracting mature students and people from non-traditional backgrounds. Yet many lifelong-learning departments and courses have been closed because of the imposition of fees, the decision not to fund students studying for equivalent or lower-level qualifications, and the cap on student places making continuing education's full-time equivalent places objects to be raided by other departments.
The outcome of some of these decisions has been the closure of continuing-education centres in the universities of Cardiff, Manchester and Reading, plus major cutbacks at many more. A focus on the economic benefits of higher education may be right, but we must also recognise the social benefits for older students: for them, part-time education fosters a better quality of life.
Mandelson should consider whether he is in danger of reinventing a wheel that has been lost through his own department's actions.
Eleanor Betts, Mark Grahame, David Griffiths, Don Henson, Richard Lee, Adam Longcroft and David Rudling, Standing Conference on Archaeology in Continuing Education.