Page last updated at 10:06 GMT, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Universities say part-time students deserve fairer deal

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News, education and family

Part-time students should be treated the same, say new universities

Part-time students in England must be given equal access to loans and grants, the group representing new universities has said.

University funding and student fees face a major review - and the Million+ group said part-time students should have the same support as full-timers.

It said this should be funded by increasing interest on student loans.

Part-time students make up 43% of the total - but do not receive the loans and subsidies of full-time students.

The new universities group, which is to launch its plans in the House of Commons on Wednesday, wants a single unified system of student finance - which will apply equally to all undergraduates.

Million+ argues against raising tuition fees - but has said £1bn extra can be raised to pay for this expansion by increasing the cost of repayment for student loans.

The proposals from Million+ are the latest attempt to address the question of how to pay for the growing demand for higher education.

Funding 'inequality'

The government has commissioned an inquiry into university funding in England which will report after the general election.

This will examine whether student fees - currently more than £3,000 per year - should be increased.

It will also consider other ways of raising funds, such as changes to the cost of repaying loans or seeking support from employers.

The blueprint submitted by Million+ calls for a system that reflects the changing student population - in particular the more than two-in-five students who are part-time.

The current funding arrangements have paid little attention to part-timers.

While full-time students are not expected to pay back tuition fees until after they graduate, part-timers are expected to pay tuition fees up-front.

The report, Fair Funding for All, says part-time students receive an average grant of £360 per year - while full-time students receive an average of £1,405.

Full-time students receive an average maintenance loan of £3,758, while part-time students do not have access to student loans.

Les Ebdon, chair of Million+, criticised the "inequality" of the funding system and says this has stood in the way of broadening entry to university and expanding more flexible ways of studying.

'Massive subsidy'

He said politicians have always seen student funding in terms of teenagers taking traditional three-year degree courses - and the funding system needs a root and branch review.

Instead of the "massive subsidy" for student loans in their current form - the Million+ report called for charging up to 2% in interest.

It also suggested restricting the payment holidays for student loans and extending the number of years over which students must continue to pay back loans.

As well as facing a shake-up of student funding, universities are also having to consider the implications of budget cuts.

On Monday, leaders of the prestigious Russell Group of universities warned of long-term damage to higher education from public spending cuts.

The lecturers' union, the UCU, said the cuts could mean 9,000 job losses by 2013 and much bigger class sizes.

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