People could pay for higher education courses by raiding their pension funds under a new Liberal Democrat concept.
Speaking before the party's annual conference in Brighton next week, Sarah Teather, the Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, said the idea was being explored by a working group chaired by Stephen Williams, Shadow Minister for Further and Higher Education. The group is focusing on improving access to higher education for mature and part-time students as well as increasing movement between further and higher education.
Ms Teather said: "We are looking at whether we could do something to allow people to draw down money from their pensions to use to pay for adult education - [at this point] it's just an idea.
"There is a lot of focus on full-time undergraduate education, partly because of the way the media works and partly because that is the way politicians have been educated."
If politicians are serious about widening participation, they have to accept that, for many people, going to university at 19 is not an option, she said.
"For those people who take a different route, it is a tougher journey. Studying part-time while juggling work and childcare is more strenuous emotionally as well as financially," she said.
Current Lib Dem policy is to give 100 per cent state support to full-time undergraduate courses. Support for part-time students and those in further education have not yet been costed. The working group will gather views at the party conference and will report in six months' time.
Ms Teather insisted that any policy changes would be evidence-based, something she said was lacking in the British political system.
"The British don't take evidence-based exploration of policy anything like as seriously as other governments do. It's something inherent in our system - I'm not making a party political point."