Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

Open University curbs Tesco 'clubcard degree' scheme

By Briar Burley
BBC News

Tesco sign
Tesco says it is 'in discussion' with the OU

The Open University is scaling back a scheme which allows students to pay for courses with Tesco clubcard points.

Since February 2007, OU students have been able to use reward points earned from shopping to pay fees for their undergraduate degrees.

But now the university says it has had to "re-evaluate its budget" and restrict the deal to students in their first years, under a phased programme.

More than 600 people have joined a Facebook page to complain.

Existing students writing on the site and in the OU's online community pages complain that they had budgeted for their courses and now face a struggle to meet fees.

Some express anger at Tesco, complaining that they had changed their shopping habits and switched to the store's credit card to earn extra points.

It was the OU's decision to change the way the reward scheme could be used, it is understood.

This is how the scheme is changing: Until 31st May 2010, students can use the reward points to pay for any undergraduate level course that is open for registration.

This includes courses starting in October 2010 and February 2011, as long as registration is completed before 1st June 2010.

But after this time, students will only be able to pay for entry level courses (level one) in this way.

The university announced the changes on Monday.

People on the Facebook page are saying this will force them to drop out of their studies
Kerry Gamecho

A spokeswoman for the Open University told the BBC: "The scheme has been very successful but in the current economic climate, the university has to re-evaluate its budgets."

She added that the programme was set up to encourage new students to take courses, but that now 80% of those who paid with reward tokens were existing students.

When the OU launched the scheme it said the aim was to make higher education more accessible.

There are currently 229,000 students enrolled on Open University Courses with a quarter (26%) receiving financial help with fees, the OU says.

Last year 16,000 courses were paid for with Tesco tokens, either fully or in part.

Facebook protest

Student Kerry Gamecho told BBC News students in the later stages of their studies would suffer.

"It's really helped people to budget on their courses but now it's not going to help those who are a third or two-thirds of the way through their degree," she said.

"People on the Facebook page are saying this will force them to drop out of their studies."

Neither Tesco nor the Open University would comment on exactly how much each contributes to the programme, but the Open University did reveal that for every £5 collected in Tesco points £20 would be deducted from their fees.

In a statement a spokesman for Tesco said: "We are aware of the issue and we are in discussion with the Open University."



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