A radical overhaul of student support in further education is needed to overcome the financial barriers to study, Alan Thomson writes.
The Hardship of Learning report by Claire Callender, professor of social policy at South Bank University, reveals the cash plight of students, particularly those with children.
Commissioned by the Further Education Funding Council and the Department for Education and Employment, the report showed that in 1997-98 a quarter of all students were in debt, more than half in financial hardship and two-thirds had no savings.
Most vulnerable were full-time students aged over 19, students from poorer backgrounds, lone parents and couples with children. A third of these were in debt and three-quarters had no savings. "The support system is neither comprehensive nor equitable so funding is not distributed according to students' needs," Professor Callender said.
"The study confirms the need for a radical overhaul of the student support system," she added.
Of the 1,000 students interviewed, just under a quarter had considered dropping out for financial reasons. Only three in ten said that they might study further, but only with cash support.
The study revealed the shortfall between average student income and expenditure. On average students earned and were awarded Pounds 5,192 in 1997-98 but spent Pounds 6,149. They made up the difference by drawing Pounds 572 from savings, borrowing Pounds 199 and not paying Pounds 40 they owed in bills. The remaining Pounds 146 is attributed to survey error.
Part-time students over 19 had the highest incomes. Seven out of ten of all students did paid work in 1997-98 and four out of five worked throughout the year.
It cost students Pounds 600 on average to study, including travel, tuition, child care and books. Travel was most costly for 16 to 18-year-olds at an average of Pounds 231 a year.
Older students with children spent more. Three in five parents with an under-five paid Pounds 925 a year on average on child care rising to Pounds 1,031 for lone parents.
Financial support, such as LEA awards, access or hardship funds and help from employers, are available to students but many are unaware of their availability and those who applied received only Pounds 97 on average in support.