A mature student has accused the Student Loans Company of ageism after being refused a loan for a postgraduate course aimed at boosting her job prospects.
Patricia Husband, a former care worker, has been accepted for a postgraduate certificate of education course at Strathclyde University after successfully completing an honours English degree at Stirling University.
She says that when she phoned the SLC in August, she was told that having had a loan at Stirling, she would be classed as an existing first-time borrower. But she has now been told she is ineligible because she is aged 53 and has changed course and institution.
"This course will hopefully qualify me to get a reasonable job and I can start to pay back my loan," she said. "But when I said that to the loans company, they weren't interested. What sort of attitude is that creating? My initial thought was to go on the dole and let them kiss goodbye to the Pounds 3,500 I've borrowed."
An SLC spokeswoman said it had no policy-making powers and had to follow policy set by government and the Department for Education and Employment. PCGE students are normally eligible for loans.
"In this case, the regulations state that in order to be eligible for a loan, a student must be under the age of 50 on the first day of their course. Having changed courses and institutions, Ms Husband was reclassified as a new borrower. As she was over 50 at the time of this reclassification, she was no longer eligible for a student loan."
From session 1999/2000, students aged 50 to 54 will be considered for a loan if they are retraining for a job. But Ms Husband is unwilling to wait until then.
"It would be wasting time. I've got maybe 12 years left to work."
She now has a maintenance grant of just over Pounds 1,000, half the cost of her hall of residence place. "Unless I find a job, which I don't really want to do, I'm broke."
Lin McLean, Strathclyde's student finance officer, said: "The government says it is committed to lifelong learning, but this seems to fly in the face of that aim.
"We are in the business of improving education standards and producing high-quality teachers. It seems a pity to put barriers such as age in their path. Strathclyde will do all it can to support Patricia through her course from sources such as the access fund."