Part-time sector suffers

October 19, 2007

Birkbeck, University of London, is to lose almost 40 per cent of its teaching income as a result of funding cuts for students pursuing second degrees, the lecturers' union warned this week.

The University and College Union has analysed the impact of the Government's plan to reduce funding by £100 million by 2010-11 for students taking equivalent or lower-level qualifications (ELQs).

The analysis suggests that eight universities will lose more than 10 per cent of their teaching grants. As a proportion of current teaching income, Birkbeck will be the worst hit, with a 38.3 per cent cut by 2014-15, compared to 2007 levels. The Open University is predicted to see a 22.7 per cent drop, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and City University could lose 13.7 per cent and 13.3 per cent respectively.

The analysis is based on information published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England last week, which describes the financial impact of the proposals and shows that 24 institutions will lose over £2 million funding each.

The funding council has said that it will provide "safety net" funding until 2011 to maintain each institution's grant at 2007-08 levels, alongside a range of other interim measures designed to mitigate the impact. But the UCU's analysis shows that other institutions' grants are likely to rise by up to 8.1 per cent in this period.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said the union "is very concerned about the potential impact on participation by mature and part-time students. The policy appears to contradict the Government agenda for lifelong learning".

Brenda Gourley, Open University vice-chancellor, said that the Hefce information highlighted "the substantial and disproportionate" impact that the changes will have on the part-time sector, despite Hefce's plan for a £20 million fund to support institutions running part-time courses.

"Yet again, it is the part-time sector - which remains the Cinderella sector on funding issues - that will be affected most adversely. And yet it is this part-time sector that provides valuable upskilling and greater levels of employability among students and therefore delivers significant benefits to the economy," she said.

Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University, said: "To announce that future funding for retraining students is to be withdrawn is shocking, but to remove funding from individual universities based on past recruitment - when it was actively encouraged - is like being hit with a retrospective Asbo for good community service."

The Government says it is fairer to re-target money on students who do not already have higher education qualifications.

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