Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex 1


  7a  "I have a query about an increasingly common problem facing women "returners" in HE. One of my students—now in the second year of her full-time degree course—has just received notification that all of her welfare benefits will be stopped—in view of the fact that she is a full-time student. She is a single parent—and typical of the kind of student one wants to see in HE—very motivated, talented, and fully grounded in the working class community from which she comes."

  7b  "We've had similar problems in FE for some time. We had joint meetings with the Employment Service agency to point out the contradiction of claimants getting hassled for studying 21 hrs (as it was then) when the course itself was government-(DFEE)funded (through the ESF in our case). Now all FE full-time courses are under 16 hrs which is the maximum any claimant can study without it affecting their benefit."

  7c  "The Access Fund in HE has been extended to part-time students and so those on low incomes can apply for fee waivers, child care cost, travel and help with course materials/books. This may be a better option for someone who wishes to study whilst on benefit, otherwise the expectation is that full-time students should use the loan system. Already with the funding changes we've seen a drop in mature full-time student applications to HE and I suspect that this is affecting women disproportionately. One response by government has been to encourage the expansion of part-time study but traditionally in HE this has been a very gendered route. Many vocational HE programmes have been offered in this way but not all other types of HE programmes. It would be interesting to know what part-time opportunities there are that might recruit more women and whether these will be expanding in response to the recent call by the funding council to bid for additional part-time and sub-degree numbers."

  7d  "There is evidence of a drop in the numbers of mature f/t women applying for HE courses. I am sure this is true in general, however at the same time various schemes operating in the last few years in certain areas of the country which have suffered from collapse of local industries and employment have born fruit and women are coming into HE courses fresh from these schemes—via Open College networks, PHVT etc. and finding themselves in their thirties or forties they wish to get on with it—the part-time route can take up to six years but as full-time students they suffer the consequences—loans leading to debt affect these students disproportionately. Traditional entrants to HE tend not to have families to support and have a greater number of years ahead to pay off debts incurred. But I am also noticing that as courses become modularized and, as funding cuts take effect—especially in the social sciences and humanities which attract many women—the differences between full and part-time students in terms of class contact can seem to be slight. A part-time student can typically engage in four to six hours class contact, while a full-time student may, in some instances, receive a similar number of hours of structured learning. The consequences include frustrations and even antagonism when part-time students are studying alongside full-time students. I find I am working with increasing numbers of full-time mature single-parent women students, whose experience and maturity is contributing so much to the HE sector, who are angry and feel that they have been let down and totally misunderstood by a government committed to a notion of lifelong learning and social inclusion but will not support them and their families."

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