Part-time students deserve cash injection, says think-tank

Report calls for £33 million to be diverted from the University Challenge fund to support the group, writes Rebecca Attwood

August 18, 2009

The Government must put a stop to the “scandalously unfair” treatment of part-time university students, a think-tank says.

In a report published today, Policy Exchange demands a new system of financial support for part-time learners, who now make up one third of undergraduate numbers, and calls for a £33 million cash injection to fund them.

At the moment, part-time students get a raw deal because they have to pay upfront tuition fees and have only a slim chance of securing financial support, it says.

“A staggering 90 per cent of part-time students do not receive any financial help from the Government. Only a third receive any financial assistance from their employer, and this tends to go to those who need it least,” says the document, Educating Rita? A model to address inadequate state support for part-time students.

“If the Government is serious about encouraging people to continue to learn throughout their lives, it must make it as easy as possible for people to go to university part time.”

It points out that part-time students are often older and hail from less traditional backgrounds, making them a key group when it comes to meeting the Government’s social-mobility objectives.

The think-tank, which has links to the Conservative Party, proposes a model that would provide 60,000 more students with financial support.

Many part-time students do not qualify for help because they study for less than 50 per cent of full-time hours, but the Policy Exchange plan would lower this boundary to 30 per cent.

It would also change the system to allow part-time students with a household income of up to £50,000 to access a partial tuition-fee grant.

The £33 million needed to fund the proposals would be diverted from the Government’s University Challenge scheme, which aims to create 20 new higher education centres around the country.

The think-tank says that this would be a better use of the money, arguing that the £150 million University Challenge programme is “ill thought through” and a poor use of public funds.

Claire Callender, professor of higher education at Birkbeck, University of London, and one of the report’s four authors, said: “For too long, state support for part-time undergraduate students has been drastically unfair. At very little cost, the Government could extend means-tested fee grants to an additional 60,000 students – more than double the current number who receive support.”

Meanwhile, the National Union of Students today published a league table of the UK’s “most expensive” degrees, looking at the “hidden costs” associated with studying different subjects.

Top of the league was mathematical or computer sciences, which the NUS found required students to spend £1,430 each year on books, equipment and fieldwork on top of tuition fees and living expenses.

And a survey by says that students starting their degrees this autumn could expect to graduate owing £23,500, with student debt topping £5,000 for each year of study for the first time.

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