Post-grads and part-time students need loans

Published on Thursday, 06 June 2013 13:32
Posted by Vicki Mitchem

The decline in part-time students has reached crisis point, according to the final report of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, published by the think tank IPPR next week.

The report will argue for an expansion in eligibility for loans to cover more part-time students. The Commission also argues that students on post-graduate courses need access to loans to ensure that family background is not a barrier to further study and to boost social mobility to the professions.

The report says that the increase in tuition fees has turned a steady decline in part-time students into an access crisis. It shows that just 31,700 part-time undergraduates successfully applied for loans last year, despite the Government claiming 175,000 part-time students would be eligible.

The report shows that two-thirds of part-time students are not eligible for fee loans. Only part-time students who do not already have a Bachelors degree are eligible for a loan, a criteria which excludes about 54 per cent of the current cohort. In addition, only students who are studying at an intensity over 25 per cent of a full time course are eligible for a loan, excluding a further 15 per cent of students from financial support. As a result, only a third of all part-time students were eligible for student loans this year.

The report shows that the recession and spending cuts have reduced demand for part-time study. Fewer employers are funding employees to do part-time courses and the squeeze on family finances has put off many people from mid-career re-training. The report also shows that, compared to the financial incentives for universities and colleges to recruit full-time students, part-time students are expensive for institutions to recruit and retain.

The report also argues that without access to a government-funded loan system, many students wishing to pursue postgraduate studies are put off from doing so, particularly those without the means. The report shows that while overall postgraduate enrolments increased by more than 200% between 1999 and 2011, the number of home and EU students doing postgraduate degrees increased by just 18%.

The report explains that because graduates would repay their loans on income between £15,000 and £21,000, the state can expect to get most of the loan value back. The estimated non-repayment on postgraduate loans would be approximately 6.9 per cent. The long term additional cost to the government of introducing a postgraduate loan scheme is £41m.

Nigel Thrift, Chair of IPPR's Commission on the Future of Higher Education and Vice Chancellor of Warwick University, said:

"Having pioneered globally renound part-time education through the Open University, the UK now faces a crisis in part-time higher education study. At a time when employers are cutting back on funding, we need to extend access to loans to more part-time students to help them with the cost of their fees.

"Without a fair funding system at the postgraduate level, we risk losing many of the gains made from widening participation at the undergraduate level. In order to ensure that students who can benefit from postgraduate studies have the opportunity to do so regardless of their financial means, we need to extend loans to cover post-graduate students."

The Commission recommends that HEFCE, QAA and OFFA should be merged into a single higher education regulator. The report says this will reduce bureaucracy by simplifying the relationships between universities and government.

The report also recommends reforms to enable greater transferability throughout the higher education system. It recommends that:

  • HEFCE should exempt those students that transfer directly from one institution to another from student number controls.
  • Higher Education institutions should be encouraged to establish transfer arrangements with other institutions, both regionally and nationally. The regulator should include accreditation of prior learning as a good practice in access agreements. It should also set benchmarks for how many transfer students from disadvantaged backgrounds institutions should aim to admit.
  • HESA should collect data on the extent to which institutions engage in transfers and accredit previous qualifications of students.

Source: IPPR


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