Part-time move merits praise

February 26, 1999

Let's get some perspective. For decades, anyone seriously concerned with more equitable access to higher education will have had two items at the top of their agenda: more places, and a system of support that gave fairer treatment to part-timers compared with full-timers. The expansion has been going on now for some time. It is only in the past year, though, that we have seen a government address the central issue of support for part-timers. This is a key plank in any strategy for lifelong learning and deserves a much warmer reception.

In Scotland, a Pounds 6 million package promoting part-time study was announced last May, with support for students and for institutions offering part-time programmes. Result? A 10 per cent growth in part-timers in Scottish universities. Loans are now, for the first time, being made available to part-time higher education students in England and Wales. Those who deride the limits set to the amount of loan seem to me to be fixated on the traditional full-time degree with its cost pattern. At least part-timers - almost invariably adults - are getting access to funding as well as to places.

There is never enough money. I would wish to go further than the government has done, with a wider range of courses being eligible for support. But it is directly addressing the historic concentration of support on full-time students, one of the most educationally inequitable as well as fiscally regressive forms of expenditure.

Tom Schuller Professor of lifelong learning Birkbeck College, London

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