Government support for part-time students should take account of the "onerous extra costs" they face in lost income, travelling and childcare, according to research.
A detailed study of the income and expenditure of 3,000 students, commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills, suggests that extra "out-of-pocket" costs faced by part-time undergraduates can be as much as £500 a year - about the same amount as their course fees.
The research, by Alan Woodley of the Open University, reveals that fewer part-time students than previously thought receive financial support from employers.It found that the typical part-time student is a woman in her late thirties who works full time.
Mr Woodley's research has already prompted the Government to offer additional financial help for part-time students in 2005.
As The Times Higher reported in October, ministers have set up a sliding scale of support.
Under the existing means-tested system, part-time students can receive a grant of up to £575 towards fees. Under the new system, a student studying at 50 per cent of the intensity of a full-time course will receive £590, at 60 per cent £710 and at 75 per cent £885.
But ministers have yet to decide to offer additional financial aid for part-time study when the variable tuition fee and bursary system is introduced for full-time undergraduates in 2006.
According to the OU study, 40 per cent of part-time students pay their own fees and 36 per cent have the full cost of their fees covered by an employer.
However, looking at those part-time students who also work full time, the study found that 58 per cent receive "some" financial help from their employer and 51 per cent have all their course fees paid.
After any sponsorship or fee waivers and grants are taken into account, the average part-time student pays £486 out of their own pocket each year to cover fees and extra costs, which includes childcare, lost income, travel, residential courses and books and computers.
Mr Woodley concludes that "support needs to take into account the often onerous extra costs of part-time study".
He adds: "Part-time study does not seem to be the prerogative of the well-off middle classes. Neither does it seem to be an area where widening participation is in full flow."
Kim Howells, the Higher Education Minister, said he hoped to see employers offer more support for part-time study.
"The findings of the survey reveal that the needs of part-time students are very different from their full-time counterparts and shows that the policy of having separate arrangements for part-time students is the right one," Dr Howells added.