Fear of rising costs is blamed for deterring mature students from university. THES investigates.
JAMES Mooney will go to university next year, disillusioned and embittered. Aged 24, he resigned from a management post in Edinburgh's Virgin Megastore to take an access course at Stevenson College.
Had he known about the student support changes, he would have "seriously reconsidered" returning to full-time education, he admitted. "But the damage has been done now, and I haven't got a job any more."
The 30 students on his access course, which carries a conditional offer of a university place, made their decisions in light of a different student support regime, he said.
"If concessions can be made for people who defer for a year, they've got to be made for people who had already sealed their fate before this funding palaver came about. We've all been paying tax. It's not like we're coming fresh-faced out of school, or our parents are paying for us."
But he is far from optimistic and believes the government has deliberately targeted higher education because of increased student demand.
"They know that people want to do it and that's how they get away with it. If it had been anything other than education, I wouldn't have paid it," he said.
"But I'm unhappily resigned to it. I've been on the marches and signed the petitions, and the reality is that now I'll have to pay the money."
Unlike many of his fellow access students, he has no mortgage or family commitments. But having begun the session with savings of Pounds 1,000, he is now Pounds 1,200 in debt, despite working at Virgin for two days a week.
"It's not because I buy anything. I have exactly the same clothes on my back that I had when I started the course. There's no relief at all. You can't go out because you don't have a penny."
His Pounds 3,000 bursary does not even cover his rent, and he expects his financial situation to continue to deteriorate.
"I'm contemplating being in thousands and thousands of pounds of debt at the end of university and that's frightening me."