It's opened my eyes and, I hope, a lot of doors

Sandy Barnes left school at 15 without any qualifications. She had her first son when she was 18, and a second two years later. Now 33 and a lone parent, she's just finished her second year doing a BA in Social Policy and Administration at Portsmouth University: "It's opened my eyes, and, I hope, a lot of doors."

She is on a full grant, which comes to about pounds 5,500 a year, and she has taken out the full student loan both years; this year it was pounds 1,600. She is happy with Dearing's suggestion that higher education should be "increasingly responsive to the needs of students". She said: "The current package really isn't adequate. There's got to be support for the full financial burden, so that at least you can pretend to yourself that you'll be able to pay it back at the end."

She thinks that having to find an extra pounds 1,000 or more a year, to go towards tuition fees, will particularly hurt mature students.

"My underlying belief is that education really should remain free, but then the money has to come from somewhere.

"Ideally this wouldn't happen, but if it does, there has to be a better support system for students."

It is the lack of such a support system, catering to individual circumstances, that she feels most keenly. "Students simply can't afford the full cost of private child care, I rely entirely on an informal network of friends.

"As a mature student, your finances are almost on the same level as someone on Income Support, except you don't get free school meals or school uniforms and so on."

Her children, 13 and 15 now, are good about the financial pressure, "but it does have a knock-on effect on them, and that's unfair." She is sceptical about New Labour's promises: "It's good that they seem to be bringing education to the forefront of the debate, but it's got to be backed by resources. "

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