08 Jan 2008

The Open University calls for university funding changes to be suspended

OU: facing funding changes

OU: facing funding changes

Postponement of funding plans ‘will allow for proper assessment of the Equivalent or Lower Qualification (ELQ) funding policy’;

Call for decision to be suspended is made as today’s Opposition Day Debate focuses on the issue

Early Day Motion attracts 211 signatories from all main parties – more than any other current EDM; and 17,500 sign Downing Street petition

The Open University is today calling for the Government to delay proposed changes to the funding of universities for students taking second higher education level qualifications at an equivalent or lower level than their first.

It comes as MPs debate the policy during an Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons today. The funding changes – which will lead to more than £30m of the University’s teaching grant being phased out – will undermine the University’s capacity to deliver on the lifelong learning agenda. Suspending the decision would bring the proposed change in line with the timing of a planned review of university fees and funding in 2009.

Open University Vice-Chancellor Professor Brenda Gourley said: “The breadth of the concern among students, former students, university staff and politicians about the funding changes shows how widespread is the belief that they should not go ahead. At the very least, we are calling for the decision to be suspended, pending the planned review of fees and funding in 2009.

“There is no doubt that the changes will hinder the University’s attempts to encourage and enable people of working age to update their knowledge and skills – a task vital to meet the changing needs of the economy and society. Three-quarters of ELQ students at the OU are studying wholly or partly for vocational reasons.”

Recent research also shows that only 13 per cent of ELQ students at the OU receive any contribution towards their fees from their employers. “Part-time students, such as those at the OU, are extremely price-sensitive and there is a high risk that thousands of ELQ students studying for vocational reasons and funding their own study will be priced out of continuing professional development by the ELQ funding change,” added Professor Gourley.

The University is also concerned that part-time employees, the self-employed and those on low incomes will be particularly disadvantaged, as will those people, such as carers, who are temporarily out of employment.

A total of 211 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion that calls on the Government to consider ways in which it can minimise the damage that the funding changes would do to lifelong learning and the delivery of the Leitch agenda objectives. No other current Early Day Motion has attracted more signatories.

In addition, the issue has attracted 17,500 signatures to a petition on the Downing Street website.

John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, wrote to the Higher Education Funding Council for England in September that he intends to end Government funding for higher education students in England and Open University students in Northern Ireland if the qualification they are studying towards is only equivalent to, or lower than, one they already hold. The majority of these students are in the part-time sector. Students in Scotland and Wales are not affected by the proposals.

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