Access students reprieved

March 3, 1995

Thousands of access course students whose plans to go on to higher education were jeopardised by the abolition of the mature students' allowance have been reprieved.

The Department for Education and the Student Awards Agency for Scotland confirmed this week that students enrolled on an access course that is immediately followed by a degree, or on a degree immediately followed by postgraduate teacher training, are classified as "continuing students" - and can still claim the allowance. However, this only applies to programmes of study started before September 1, 1995.

The case of Jane Pepper, a mature student on an access course in Scotland, was highlighted by her MP Michael Watson in the House of Commons last week. Tim Boswell, further and higher education minister, responded that Ms Pepper "may be eligible for the older students allowance as a continuing student".

A spokesman for the Department for Education said that students on access courses that led to a place on a specific degree programme, as well as those on "multi-exit" courses where students were free to apply to any university, were both covered by the continuing students clause.

Ms Pepper had left her job in the Department of Social Security to undertake an access course with a view to doing a degree. The loss of the allowance would have cost her Pounds 4,000 over a three or four-year course - something she could not afford - and she faced signing on as a claimant with her old employer.

According to Access Education Services at the University of North London there are currently 1,700 access courses with about 30,000 students. Harinder Lawley, head of access development at the university, said: "We have had a lot of reports from access co-ordinators that students are extremely worried about the loss of the allowance. This will be a reprieve for those already studying but not for those starting this October."

* A survey of student finances by the University of Westminster has found that half of the respondents had taken a job in term-time and a quarter of these were working for more than 15 hours a week. The average weekly earnings were Pounds 21 and the average hourly pay was Pounds 5.70.

Students' Financial Circumstances 1994 was a survey of all full-time undergraduates in the university's environment faculty. Thirty-eight per cent of the respondents had debts of more than Pounds 1,000 and 10 per cent had debts of more than Pounds 3,000.

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