Distance Learning: The benefits of studying at home

A Government initiative encourages people on income support to learn, and the Open University is all set to help.

Distance learning is ideal for students who cannot get away from home to take a full time course at university or college. The Open University was launched partly on the premiss that there was a pool of under-qualified people - many of them at that time teachers without degrees - who'd welcome the chance to study part time at their own pace, based in their own homes. And so the OU, currently with 165,000 part time students, proved triumphantly. But the pool's not empty yet, and the Government's latest initiative to pay the fees of part time students on benefits will reveal just how deep it still is.

George Mudie, minister for lifelong learning, launched the new scheme at the OU in May. It means that people in receipt of income support, jobseeker's allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit, and some others on very low incomes, will have their fees waived at most higher education institutions from the start of the next academic year.

The waiver will include existing students as well as those about to start a course, and will cover students on first-degree, HND or HNC courses that are equivalent to at least 50 per cent of a full time course. Students in further education with fees already waived will continue to qualify if funding is transferred to the Higher Education Funding Council. The scheme will not cover postgraduate study.

The Open University is hoping to attract many of the 25,000 students who could benefit. It estimates that it could take up to 10,000 extra recruits next year. It has already been allocated 4,000 more places as part of the Government's initiative to increase participation by students from poor backgrounds. "The OU is an excellent example of the potential benefits of the new scheme," said Mr Mudie, launching it at the OU's Milton Keynes HQ. "The OU has a 30-year record of ensuring all sections of the community can participate in higher education." In fact, the OU has campaigned for some time for better treatment of students wishing to study part time, and already has its own financial assistance fund for students on benefits.

"It is good to see so many new students being offered the chance to fulfil their potential," says Sir John Daniel, the Vice-chancellor. "It's an important step towards the goal of national lifelong learning."

Typical of the students the scheme is intended to help, is Michele Major, a 30-year-old mother of two who has been on income support since she separated from her husband two years ago. She will start a one-year foundation course in science in the autumn as the first step to a career in environmental science. Most of her course commitments will be undertaken at home, so she can continue to care for her two school-aged sons, and avoid the expense of travelling to college.

Michele hopes that with a degree she will be able to get the sort of job that will allow her to support herself and her children. "Without this assistance, I would not have been able to afford university study and that would have left me in the benefits trap," she says.

The OU has enormous experience of helping students who may lack confidence, as they've no recent experience of study. Pat Romans, Oxford's regional adviser, says: "All applications are vetted to make sure students are applying for courses they can cope with. We look at the subject and level to make sure it is appropriate to their previous educational experience and, if necessary, we will contact them to discuss their choice. Before they start, they will be invited to pre-course meetings with tutors where they will write a practice essay that'll be marked and discussed.

"Most students coming in will take a Level 1 course, which starts gently but leads to a standard equivalent to the end of the first year of a degree course. It is a steep learning curve. But, if we have doubts about them, we will recommend study packs that they can use before they start, or perhaps refer them to local return-to-study sessions. We may even suggest that they do some more work on an access course first."

OU tutors assigned to Level 1 students have the responsibility of seeing the student through. Part of their brief is to provide counselling as well as academic guidance; they have the freedom to arrange individual sessions with students, and are available on the phone for anyone who runs into difficulties.

"One problem with distance learning is the isolation, and most people come to us because they cannot travel to a conventional college or university," Pat Romans explains. "It is important that these students have someone they can turn to."

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Extras
10 best table lamps
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

English Teacher (Bristol and South Gloucestershire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: English teachers for day to day cover,...

Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 6 Teacher RequiredThis teaching...

Maths Teacher (Swindon and Wiltshire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Maths teachers for short-term cover, l...

Science Teacher 0.4

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Science Teacher 0.4 - Immediat...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week