SCOTTISH education minister Brian Wilson is today expected to unveil a Pounds 6 million package, including tuition fee waivers, to boost access to higher education for part-time students.
The move follows widespread criticism that the government's student support proposals will deter applicants. The Scottish Office funding will be targeted at part-time courses, which the government sees as playing a key role in widening access. The three-year pilot scheme will be aimed at students who are either unemployed or on low incomes, and studying for a first degree at a higher education institution.
The Scottish initiative comes only weeks after Baroness Blackstone, higher education minister south of the border, suggested that loans might be extended to poorer part-time students if the Treasury agreed to a change in accounting rules. This prospect was welcomed by educational bodies.
Mr Wilson, who is giving the keynote address to a Scottish Office-Scottish Higher Education Funding Council conference on widening participation in higher education, is promoting wider access as a central part of the government's efforts to tackle social exclusion. Part of the funding will support colleges and universities in developing courses specifically aimed at part-timers, leading to places for up to 2,000 extra part-time students. This is likely to be backed by new course development posts.
Mr Wilson is also expected to announce fee waivers for up to 3,000 low-income, part-time students, including 1,000 existing students. These will be available for the start of the new academic year.
The Scottish Office will present the new money as part of a broad strategy to widen access, which includes the recent restoration of funds to Newbattle Abbey College, Scotland's only adult residential college. The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council is to provide about Pounds 1 million annually for at least five years to promote wider access, while the Student Awards Agency for Scotland is investigating new methods of distributing access funds that will better reflect student need.
Scotland has already increased higher education participation from 19 per cent to 47 per cent over the ten years to 1996-97.