18 May 2010

The OU and Birkbeck call for level playing field for part-time students

Martin Bean, Vice Chancellor, The Open University

Martin Bean, Vice Chancellor, The Open University

The OU and Birkbeck are today calling for part-time students to get the same entitlements to financial support as full-time students. Part-time students make up 39% of all undergraduates yet, unlike full-time students, they are not eligible for loans to pay their tuition fees. In their second joint submission to the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance, the two dedicated providers of part-time education argue for the creation of a level playing field.

The Open University and Birkbeck propose a single, integrated system of institutional funding and student support in England that draws no distinction between modes of study. All students, full-time and part-time, should have equal access to fee grants or loans (depending on household income) and all students taking courses of 120 credits (i.e. full-time study) should also qualify for maintenance loans to help with living costs.

Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University said: “Part-time students deserve a first class education and a fair deal. More than ever before, the nation needs a strong and vibrant part-time sector. It brings people from non-traditional backgrounds into higher education and provides the knowledge and skills that a modern labour force needs. These are key national priorities and they deserve urgent attention. We must act now to ensure part-time provision remains sustainable and open to all.”

Professor David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck said: “The Review Panel, led by Lord Browne, has already stated that it recognises that student financial support for part-time students is not sufficient, especially when compared to the support provided for full-time students, and the current system presents skewed incentives at a time when flexible and innovative provision is important. It is time that part-time students are no longer the Cinderellas of the HE sector. The Conservative-Liberal coalition can correct the mistakes and inequities of the past and finally deliver a higher education system that is fair for all.”

Key Points from The Open University and Birkbeck’s joint submission
The Part-time Sector:

Currently, all full-time students have access to non means-tested student loans, effectively making their study free at the point of entry. Part-time students have to pay their fees up front and largely from their own pockets. Fee and course grants are available to some part-time students but they are means tested, have much lower income thresholds than those for full-time students, and are capped at levels that provide only partial fee support. Both the fee and course grants are available only to those who study at or above half the full-time rate. Nearly two-thirds of part-time students in England study below this level and so are automatically ineligible for any government financial support.

o Nearly two-thirds (64%) of part-time undergraduates study for vocational and professional qualifications compared with just over a tenth (11%) of full-time students. Half a million people a year study undergraduate courses in English universities and colleges on a part-time basis.
o 39% of all undergraduate students in England study part-time.
o Raising the skills level of the workforce.
o 89% of part-time students study to further their career aims.
o 64% study vocational or professional courses.

Widening Participation:
o Over 40% of part-time students aiming for an undergraduate qualification in England have a qualification below Level 4 or equivalent, or no qualifications at all.
o Almost 30% belong to the routine or manual socio-economic groups.

Cost Effectiveness:
o 81% of part-time undergraduate students remain in work whilst studying and are net contributors to the Exchequer through income tax, employees’ and employers’ national insurance contributions.

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