Select Committee on Education and Skills Eighth Report

3  Funding for part time students

30. One of our reasons for visiting Australia was to learn lessons generally from the experiences of a well developed higher education sector. As 2006-07 is the academic year in which variable fees have been introduced in England, we discussed with a number of our Australian hosts the experience of the Higher Education Contribution System (HECS), which was the original model for the fees system here. There are a number of differences between the Australian and English systems, an important one being that in Australia the level of fees payable depends on the course being taken. Another significant difference is that in Australia there is no distinction in terms of the support offered to students between those who are studying part-time and those studying full time

31. While funding for fees and grants for part time students in England has increased, they are not included in the variable fees scheme, nor do they have access to student loans. We were told that funding of fees for part time students is currently 50% of what it would be if it was set at an equivalent level to that for full time students.[39] On student support, the highest grant available for those eligible is £250, and research by South Bank University has suggested that 58% of those eligible spend more than that on course costs.[40]

32. As participation in higher education has increased, so the nature of the student body has changed. Forty per cent of students are defined as studying part time.[41] Full time students, however, work on average 14 hours a week in paid employment, and 20% work more than 20 hours a week.[42] It is hard to see how someone employed for 20 hours or more each week can be defined as a full time student; yet those students have access to the full range of student support denied to others defined as part time.

33. Professor David Vincent, Pro-Vice Chancellor of The Open University, told us:

"There are advanced systems, and Australia is one, where there is no distinction whatsoever between full and part time, where the category of part time has no meaning. They are just all proportions of a student. In an ideal world we would have that system here."[43]

Along with Professor David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck College, University of London, he advocated as a short term solution a premium payable to those institutions whose student body was constituted entirely of part-time students, and that in the medium term there should be a premium for all part time students wherever they study .[44]

34. The distinction between part time and full time students for the purpose of fee and income support is now so blurred as to be no longer sustainable. We recommend that the Government reviews as a matter of urgency the current arrangements for fee support payable to institutions for part time students and the availability of support for part time students themselves. For the future, we believe that students should be seen as one group with a variety of needs for support rather than being arbitrarily divided into categories of part time and full time.

39   Q 232 Back

40   Q 237 Back

41   Q 232 Back

42   Q 172 Back

43   Q 257 Back

44   ibid. Back

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