Supporting part-time students
Almost every analysis of higher education trends suggests that the image of the typical university student as someone who recently completed secondary education and who now studies full-time for an undergraduate degree will soon be out-of-date. With the growth of lifelong learning and second chance education, and with increasing pressures on students to earn money alongside their studies, it is likely that mature part-time students will become almost as common as the full-time school-leaver. Add to this the likely need for re-skilling that many people will experience in the course of their working lives, and you can see that the typical student – if there will be any such person at all – may turn out to be quite different in future.
This being so, it is odd and perhaps disturbing that the state’s higher education framework often does not support what is or should be public policy. In a number of countries that do not have tuition fees – including Scotland and Ireland – part-time students still have to pay their way and are not exempt from fees. As it happens, these are exactly the people who should be encouraged to participate in higher education and who often, because of their socio-economic backgrounds, are least able to find the funds to pay their fees.
A recent study commissioned by the Open University and conducted by polling company MORI found that 25 per cent of those considering part-time studies in Scotland were being put off by fees; and a much larger 73 per cent of those currently unemployed felt that fees were a major obstacle for them.
This anomaly needs to be addressed. If there are to be no tuition fees for undergraduates – or indeed even if there are to be fees – there is a powerful argument for proper support for part-timers. Giving this support is socially just, but in addition will help economic recovery and combat unemployment. The present position makes no sense.