Open Eye: OU student signs up first for pounds 12m `second chance'

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The Independent Online
An OU student was the first to sign up under a pounds 12million government initiative which will enable thousands of people on benefit to get the chance of higher education.

Michele Major, a single mother of two, will be studying free with the OU as part of the new scheme to waive fees for all part-time undergraduate students on benefit, from September. The scheme was announced by Lifelong Learning Minister George Mudie on a visit to the OU in May. The OU expects to take around 10,000 of these new students on its courses next year.

Announcing the scheme, Mr Mudie said the government was `very very serious' about widening participation as a means of getting people out of poverty and in to work. "There are individuals who don't have the equality of opportunity for the prosperity most of us take for granted. The way to empower them to get that opportunity is to go back to education."

He praised the OU's record: "It's brought access, it's brought opportunity to ordinary people from different backgrounds in every community in the country."

Welcoming the initiative, OU Vice-Chancellor Sir John Daniel said: "We at the OU have tried very hard over the years to make it possible for people on benefit who can't afford fees to study with us."

Through its Financial Awards Fund the OU allocates around pounds 3million a year to help disadvantaged students, he said. "Even that runs out before all the students who would like to take advantage of it can do so. This scheme removes that barrier."

Michele, 30, from Milton Keynes, was one of those who applied to the OU too late to benefit from the Financial Awards Fund. Now she has a free place on the OU's introductory Science course, Discovering Science, next year.

With two children aged nine and five to care for single-handed, part time study is Michele's only option. She sees further qualifications as the only way out of the benefits trap. "At the moment my only option is going back to basic clerical work, and it doesn't pay enough.

"By getting a degree I hope in the end to get a better-paid job. And it would be nice to do something that I enjoy."

Her dream job would be involved with the environment, she said.