Fear of rising costs is blamed for deterring mature students from university. THES investigates
RECRUITMENT to access courses, the gateway to higher study, is becoming an uphill struggle, according to Clive Linnett, director of access at Bradford and Ilkley Community College.
One 12-month access course has lost more than half of its students. Enrolments on access courses overall at the college were down by 30 per cent this year.
Money is the reason that comes up time and again. As a result Mr Linnett feels compelled to dampen the enthusiasm of prospective students by making them face the financial repercussions of their decisions. "I would feel fraudulent if I didn't do it," he said.
Ironically, more and more university admissions tutors - including Cambridge University recently - are contacting the college, and there is some anecdotal evidence that offers of places are based on lower grades than five years ago, particularly from new universities.
On Tuesday this week a university admissions officer rang to discuss a promising mature student and make him an offer. Mr Linnett had to pass on the news that the student had dropped out because going to university had become a financial impossibility for him.
For mature access students at the college, going on to university was to be the final stage of a long journey from poverty to prosperity. Many had already cleared the local authority hurdle and got a discretionary award. Now suddenly national policies are blocking their way. Diminishing grants and the possibility of tuition fees are threatening to turn them back.
Many are questioning whether higher education is worth it, said Mr Linnett. There are still misunderstandings and confusion about how much a degree will cost.
The problem is that many have already made sacrifices and given up jobs to come to college as a preparation for higher education.
Wendy Lawrence, 30, has worked in retail and paid taxes since she left school. She lives at home with her parents and hopes to become a teacher. "Now I'm wondering if it was worth it," she said.
Adele Broome, , is a single mother hoping to go on to a health studies degree later this year. She cannot afford to get in to debt, but despite repeated enquiries, she is still in the dark about how much her studies will cost.
Hannah Vaicekauskas, 23, has an offer to read politics and history at Bradford University but is indignant that at her age, her parents are still expected to pay her fees. "I don't know whether we can afford it yet," she said.