Never too late - except for a loan: Sue Fielding on a hard lesson for mature students seeking support

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The Independent Online
THE university term begins in a couple of weeks and Peter Matthews, like thousands of other first-year students, is working out how to make ends meet.

Mr Matthews is not budgeting for a new pair of jeans, nor drinks at the Students Union, nor even an occasional night out at a disco. He is more concerned with paying for his senior citizen's bus pass, and calculating whether his pension will stretch to buying his books.

Mr Matthews is 66. This summer he took a GCSE in Latin and an A-level in classical civilisation. He achieved grade A in both and will now study for an English degree at Bristol University while continuing to live at home with his wife.

Mr Matthews has been turned down for a student grant. 'I get a state pension and one from work. My total income was more than the qualifying amount,' he explains. 'But I do get my fees paid. I would not be able to afford to go to university otherwise.'

He is not eligible for a student loan because the scheme excludes people over 50.

A spokesman for the Department of Education says: 'A student loan did not seem quite the appropriate mechanism to offer mature students. They have a limited time left in paid employment to repay the loan.'

This reasoning seems to ignore the fact that students of any age have no guarantee of paid employment. The department also argues that mature students 'very often can support themselves' - a judgment which could equally apply to a Porsche-driving 21-year-old well able to support himself and to obtain a loan, which is not means-tested.

All the banks woo students in the hope that they will be the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Mr Matthews has been a long-standing customer of Lloyds Bank. Will Lloyds offer him a student bank account, complete with pounds 400 interest-free overdraft, free railcard and commission-free traveller's cheques?

A spokesman for Lloyds says: 'Of course he can have a student bank account. We would be delighted. He would not qualify for a young person's railcard, so we will give him the money towards a senior citizen's railcard instead.'

Mr Matthews reckons his biggest expense at university will be books. Extras will include travel expenses and membership of the English and Italian societies at university.

'I will not be blowing my money on a social life,' he says.

'I am more interested in my investment portfolio than drinking in the Students Union every night.'

(Photograph omitted)

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