Support package sweetened for part-time students

Part-time students are to be given an extra year of grace before they become eligible to start repaying tuition fee loans after the government agreed to changes that had been put forward by the sector and Liberal Democrat peers.

October 25, 2011

There had been concerns that a large number of part-time students would face repaying loans while still studying under previous proposals for them to start payments three and a half years after beginning their course, provided they were earning £21,000 or more.

However, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said today that the government would – subject to Parliamentary approval - extend the period to around four and a half years for part-time students beginning a course in the autumn of a calendar year.

Ministers had already agreed to revisit the plans following a hearing in the House of Lords this month on the Education Bill, which contains proposed new laws on part-time fee loans, in which Lib Dem peers tabled an amendment calling for a change.

Mr Willetts said he had also received representations on the issue from institutions specialising in part-time provision.

“We have listened carefully to the sector, including Birkbeck and the Open University, about the details of this because we are determined to provide the best possible regime for part-time students,” he said.

“Employers particularly value graduates who already have experience of the workplace, which is why making part-time study more accessible is so important.”

The Lib Dems had already supported a motion at their party conference calling for a review of the policy, arguing that some students may have been put off from accessing the new system of part-time loans because of the repayment timetable.

Under the changes announced today, a part-time student starting a course in October 2012 will only start repaying their loans in April 2017 if they are earning £21,000 or above. However, until that date they will pay interest on the loan of 3 per cent above inflation, unless they finish their course early.

Lib Dem peer Baroness Brinton, who has been behind attempts to change the bill, said it was “always bizarre” that the government had proposed asking part-time students to start repaying before some full-time students had completed degrees.

“I’d like to thank the institutions who have helped me to keep up the pressure with my amendments in the Education Bill, and speeches in higher education debates, as I was able to use real examples from the sector which made the arguments even more powerful,” she said.

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

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