MPs call for part-time grants and easing of ELQ funding rules

Report from Education Committee says support should be focused on students on courses in ‘priority skill areas’

December 19, 2020
Westminster, Houses of Parliament
Source: iStock

The Westminster government should provide more funding support for part-time students and those who already hold a higher education qualification, according to recommendations from MPs.

The report, A Plan for an Adult Skills and Lifelong Learning Revolution, from the House of Commons Education Committee, says that means-tested fee grants should be introduced for part-time students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds who study courses in “priority skill areas”.

It adds that maintenance support, which is currently only available to those studying face-to-face degree programmes, should be extended to all part-time students. The report notes that the exclusion of distance learners “is an inequality that is likely to appear increasingly unfair and arbitrary as maintenance loans are extended to students at other institutions whose courses have moved online due to the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The number of part-time undergraduates in England collapsed by 53 per cent between 2008-09 and 2017-18, largely because of the tuition fee reforms in 2012, which trebled tuition fees, abolished maintenance grants and raised interest fees on student loan debt.

The committee also calls for a relaxation of equivalent or lower qualification (ELQ) funding rules. Most students who hold a higher education qualification are not eligible for fee and maintenance loans for a second qualification at the same or a lower level, but MPs say these funding restrictions should be removed for courses that “meet the skills needs of the UK economy”.

The report adds that all higher education institutions should offer degree apprenticeships.

The recommendations chime with calls from experts in the sector, who, following Boris Johnson’s pledge to create a Lifetime Skills Guarantee in September, urged the government to reintroduce grants and ensure funding is available to people already holding degrees to boost post-pandemic retraining.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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