Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 35

Submission from the Open University Students Association


1.  Executive Summary

  1.1  This submission confines itself to the aspect of the report dealing with the adequacy of funding and student support packages.

1.2  There is no objective justification for the continued discrimination against part time higher education students.

1.3  This discrimination blights the opportunities of students and potential students at the individual level.

1.4  At the level of society it undermines the espoused values of lifelong learning and responsible citizenship.

  1.5  At the level of the economy it undermines the objectives of achieving a world class skilled workforce.

  1.6  We think that the artificial, and increasingly meaningless, divide between so-called full time and so-called part time students should be ended.

2.  Brief Introduction to Submitter

  2.1  OUSA represents all students registered to study with the Open University. This includes approximately 172,000 students from the UK.

3.  Factual Information

3.1  We have on a number of occasions asked government representatives for a definition of part-time students. It will doubtless be clear to this Committee as to why we have not been furnished with a meaningful response.

3.2  At this juncture, we would suggest that the only meaningful definition of part-time students is the one which is used to prevent our students, and thousands of other students like them, from having access to the same level of financial support as those defined as full-time students.

  3.3  There appears to be considerable misinformation and a lack of high quality, factual information about this category of students. Although we acknowledge the considerable improvements that have been made in financial support for our students from the late 1990s, it is a fact that those students who don't qualify for such support have to pay the whole of their study costs up front. The overwhelming majority receive no support from their employers. In our experience, most undergraduates studying without support or encouragement from their employers are doing so to enable them to have the opportunity for a career which can develop and use their potential. We can't see that any amount of persuasion of employers is going to have any impact in such cases. At the same time such students are seldom in the kind of paid employment which makes it easy for them to fund what can be a considerable sum in course fees before coming to the range of other costs involved in studying. There also appears to be no understanding that even students studying from a distance have to have some time when they can be free of child and dependent care in order to concentrate on their studies, or have to fund travel considerable distances to take part in day schools and tutorials. It is sadly a commonplace for us to deal with students who are having to take time out of their studies for no other reason than that they can't afford to continue, either at all or in the shortest time they would be capable of achieving their award, but for want of the funds. At the level of the individual, this seems to us to be an appalling way to treat those who are taking responsibility for their own learning and achievements.

  3.4  On a related point, our students exemplify those people who can turn aspirations for a culture which promotes lifelong learning and responsible citizenship into reality. Logic suggests that they should be supported rather than having financial obstacles placed in their way.

  3.5  Whilst our students, like other part time students, have a range of objectives in studying, it is clear to us that a considerable majority have very clear vocational purposes. We are aware that much has been written about the contribution which part-time higher education students are already making to the economic imperative of up skilling the work force. It is also clear that for a wide range of reasons, not only financial, this mode of study is going to be increasingly important to any aspirations for a workforce skilled to compete on a world class basis in the future. If that is true, the sense would be to provide incentives to support and encourage such students instead of seeing the continued divide between part time and full time as providing a convenient way of saving money.

4.  Recommendations for Consideration

  4.1  OUSA commends the views of our colleagues in NUS who made this statement in their excellent report "Broke and Broken" published in September 2008 "There should be no review of the current HE funding system that does not include serious consideration of part-time issues. Talk of a genuine learning society is cheap unless it is matched with a structure for part-time study that is fair and accessible. A new settlement for part-time learning is therefore desperately needed."

4.2  OUSA believes that the continuing divide between the treatment in financial support of part-time and full-time students is discriminatory, arbitrary, anachronistic and dysfunctional. We hope that the committee will share this view and conclude that it should be ended without further delay.

December 2008

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