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 Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 12:30 GMT
Student jobs OK says minister
university students
The system of student funding is under review
Students in England have been told there is nothing wrong with having to work their way through university.

The Higher Education Minister, Margaret Hodge, has provoked anger from student leaders by saying she has no problem with students' working part-time if their studies do not suffer.

She said this was something those in the further education sector had to do.

She also said her department had considered some 70 options for reforming student finance as part of its ongoing review of the system.

"Let me just say something which is probably a bit controversial.

"I'm not too concerned about students' doing part-time work when they are studying," she told the website

students in bar
Is the high life leading to debt?
"What we've got to ensure is that there's a proper balance in some way so that the work doesn't impinge on their study."

The National Union of Students (NUS), has reacted angrily, accusing Ms Hodge of not understanding the problems of the student support system.

The NUS claimed recently that students would be better off financially if they were on benefits.

Research by the union suggested that, after loan repayments, the average student was left with 13 a week less to live on than a young unemployed person on Jobseekers Allowance.

Beer money

But Margaret Hodge said undergraduates who worked were only doing what many students at further education colleges had to do.

"You've just got to balance what's happening there - and that's where a lot of working class kids are at the moment, getting their second chance into A-level/level 3, and at the moment there's no support from the state - and yet on the other hand you've got students saying it's wrong to work part-time," she said.

She also pointed to a recent poll which suggested students who drank spent about 25 a week on alcohol.

She said the study showed much student debt was due to the way students lived.

"But a lot of lifestyle choices were leading to debt. I think on average those who drank were spending 25 per week on alcohol.

"Now that's absolutely fine, but should the state pay for that?"

The NUS said it was "shocked" by her comments and that many studies had shown that students' grades suffered because of paid work.

Poorer students suffer

The union's vice president of education, Brooks Duke, said: "These comments are quite astonishing coming from an education minister and are further proof that the Margaret Hodge does not understand the problems with the current funding system.

"It is no good her citing 'extravagant' student lifestyles as a defence. It is not the well-off students that are missing lectures and coursework deadlines due to the amount of paid work they are forced to undertake just to keep their heads above water.

"Ms Hodge needs to realise that students cannot be tarred with one brush and she must address the huge disparity between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' on campus.

"Unfortunately ill-informed comments like this do little but suggest the government is a long way from getting things right."

The government is looking at ways of reforming the student support system but the findings of a review are overdue.

Ms Hodge told that officials had been looking at about 70 different possibilities.

She said: "We're taking our time to get it right and I don't apologise for that."

Foundation degrees

In a separate development, the government has announced that it has passed its target for getting students to start foundation degrees, the new work-based degree qualification.

It had aimed to have 4,000 students starting the new vocational courses by autumn 2001.

The target has been exceeded by 229.

The government sees the foundation degrees, which are designed with industry, as a way of increasing higher education among people from what it calls "non-traditional" backgrounds - families where no one has been to university before.

See also:

20 Feb 02 | Education
12 Feb 02 | Wales
19 Feb 02 | N Ireland
19 Feb 02 | Education
03 Oct 01 | Education
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