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‘Part-time students will lose out’, Government admits

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‘Part-time students will lose out’, Government admits

The Government claims that, despite higher tuition fees, higher education will be free at the point of access. However, this will not be so for the majority of part-time students. As their own impact assessment suggests, only 1/3 of part-time students will be eligible for support:

“we estimate that around two thirds of part-time students will not be eligible for fee loans. At the same time, the withdrawal of teaching grant might mean that fees are increased across the board (including for students not eligible for fee loans). This could have a negative impact on part-time participation overall” (page 21).

This limited eligibility of part-time students arises from the fact that in order for them to qualify they must study more than a 1/3 of a full time course (a proportion that does not map onto standard credit weightings that tend to push that proportion well above 1/3 in order to cross that threshold) and must not already possess a full Level 4 qualification (i.e. an undergraduate degree).

Claire Callender, Professor of Higher Education at Birkbeck College and the Institute of Education, writes further that, the proposed changes are an ‘improvement’ on current provision BUT part-time students are not being treated equally with full timers.

More part-time students will be eligible for tuition fee loans than the 10 per cent of part-timers (approximately 52,900 students) now receiving fee grants (Hansard, 2010). Unlike the current fee grants, the tuition fee loans will cover a student’s tuition fees in full. A student’s household income no longer will affect their eligibility to government-funded financial support but an existing Level 4 qualification on entry will. But these loans will have to be repaid unlike the current fee grant which the loan replaces, and students will lose the grant (up to £260) they receive at present toward their other course costs.

How many of those who qualify for the loans will actually take one out? The average age a part-time undergraduate completes their qualification and graduates is about 40. Most of them earn above £21,000 – and will incur the higher interest rates on their student loan repayments. How willing will they be to take on addition financial commitments and debts, at a time in their life when they have substantial demands on their financial resources? Will they be prepared to take out loans that they will have to repay for the rest of their working lives?  In addition, the private financial returns for adults undertaking part-time undergraduate qualifications tend to be lower than those enjoyed by younger full-time HE graduates because they have shorter working lives in which to recoup the benefits.

The withdrawal of government funding received by universities for the teaching of arts, humanities, and social science subjects, the probable withdrawal of the part-time premium (the extra money HEIs receive to cover the additional costs of teaching part-time students), along with HEIs’ new freedom to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000, mean that part-time tuition fees will have to rise substantially. In addition, part-time fees will need to rise at a faster rate than most full-time undergraduate fees because currently only a minority of HEIs charge a pro-rata rate of the maximum full-time tuition fee.

The reforms potentially open up a range of new opportunities for part-time study and part-time students. In turn, they raise another vexing issue – what impact will higher tuition fees have on the demand for part-time study, especially among those who do not qualify for the loans or do not want to take them out, but all of whom will face much higher fees? Higher education will be free at the point of access for some part-time undergraduate students but certainly not for most part-time undergraduates.

  1. I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the emphasis on the funding of full-time university degrees. It’s almost as if the part-time student community is invisible. I can’t help wondering if the government – current and past – is not missing a trick given the current economic climate. I studied for both my degrees while I was working full-time; I started my first degree when I was 45 and graduated at the age of 50 and went straight on to study for my masters degree the same year. I was awarded a 1st for the first degree, a distinction in my masters, not I hasten to add because I am clever but because I had acquired discipline and self-motivation throughout my working in life which in turn helped me apply the academic theory to the world I lived in.

    I truly believe that I would not have achieved academic success without the years of work experience that helped me make sense of what I was learning at University. There were also a number of stakeholders in my academic adventure – my employer, the university and myself. The University provided the tuition in formats that allowed working students to attend in the evenings, and tutors who had the greatest admiration for mature students. My employer and I shared the costs of each module equally. My employer also provided some time off for exams and revisions, which I supplemented with annual leave. Both employer and myself gained from my new found knowledge, conceptual and analytical skills acquired along the way.

    To me this seems a much better way forward than focussing only on
    full-time education in HE since it forges a tripartite relationship with HE, employers and employees which must benefit the wider economy as well as the individual. And of course let’s not forget the part-time students are not so likely to build up the debt that is the legacy of so many full-time students. The sharing of investment in education in this way may also lead to students taking degrees that will be valued more in the workplace. I don’t suppose Universities would favour this model, as it would mean considerably change in the organisation and delivery of tuition, not to mention a fall in income. But it does at least merit consideration.

    Where did I study? The University of Warwick – where else?!

    Krysia Saul
    Research Manager
    Warwick & Coventry Primary Care Research
    Warwick Medical School
    University of Warwick
    Coventry
    CV4 7AL
    Tel: 02476 573163
    Email: krysia.saul@warwick.ac.uk

  2. Intriguing tactic. I’m suprised I failed to notice this on the actual large news sites first. Nicely played!

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