A mature reply to adult access cuts? Give up

Withdrawing state support for access to higher education courses will stop thousands of prospective mature students from attending university, a report has warned.

May 24, 2012

Under current plans, adults over the age of 24 will be forced to pay for the entire cost of level 3 studies - such as A levels or their equivalents - when 50 per cent of direct funding is removed in 2013-14.

However, the cuts are likely to have serious knock-on effects for universities dependent on mature students, according to a study published on 22 May that was compiled by the National Union of Students and Million+, the group that represents many post-1992 universities.

Based on a poll of almost 4,000 mature students, the report, Never Too Late to Learn: Mature Students in Higher Education, found that nearly two-thirds of mature undergraduates who apply to university with level 3 qualifications had completed them after the age of 24.

"The prospect of either paying higher level 3 course fees upfront or taking on one or two years of further education fee loans as a precondition for entry ... is likely to act as a major disincentive," it says.

Patrick McGhee, vice-chancellor of the University of East London and chair of Million+, said politicians needed to realise that mature students were a "major part" of higher education.

"The debate is always centred on 17- or 18-year-olds. Mature students are completely off the radar," he said.

"We want the government to see mature students as an important part of social mobility."

The report comes after an 11 per cent decline in the number of university applications by prospective mature students for 2012-13 entry.

Those from sixth-formers fell by just 1.6 per cent.

Professor McGhee said that the study also set out to "bust many myths about mature students".

For instance, only 10 per cent of the 429,460 mature undergraduates studying in 2009-10 already held degrees, it found, while just 5 per cent of the students polled are supported by employers.

"Mature students are not studying as a leisure activity," he said. "We found that they are actually more ambitious and career-focused than younger students."

jack.grove@tsleducation.com.

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