Universities call for loans to encourage part-timers

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MEANS-TESTED loans should be made available to all part-time students to help universities fulfil Tony Blair's pledge to bring 500,000 people into education, vice-chancellors said yesterday.

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals said the Government was doing too little to encourage part-timers and people on low incomes into university, and appealed for the right to waive tuition fees for unemployed applicants.

Part-time and mature students are expected to make up more than half the 80,000 new students universities must attract over the next three years to meet their part of Mr Blair's pledge to open up education to an extra 500,000 students by 2002. But applications to university by mature students, who make up 91 per cent of Britain's 500,000 part-timers, have slumped after the Government announced plans to introduce tuition fees.

Applications have dropped by 11.5 per cent in the 21-to-24 age range, and 15 per cent among the over-25s, despite a slight rise in the number of under-21s applying to university.

Diana Warwick, chief executive of the CVCP, said: "The Dearing Report and the Government's response did not deliver enough for part-time students. They should have access to similar support as full-time students. We also want the Government to give universities the ability to waive fees for unemployed part-time students or those on low incomes." Part-time students already pay their own tuition fees but get no help with living expenses. Full-time undergraduates will have to pay up to pounds 1,000 a year in tuition fees from October, but can get a means-tested loan to cover maintenance.

New rules governing university access funds allow fees to be waived for students who lose their jobs during a course, but do not allow universities to offer concessions to unemployed applicants.

Ministers have hinted that maintenance loans may eventually be extended to part-timers if extra money can be made available. Universities hope changes to the way student loans are treated in the national public expenditure accounts will release billions of pounds for education. Andrew Parkes, president of the National Union of Students, said extra funding was vital to encourage people back into the education system. He predicted the drop-out rate for undergraduates would rise and less people would enter the clearing process because , with tuition fees to pay, second best may longer be good enough.

Most employers are not influenced by graduates' choice of university, according to a survey. But three-quarters of companies do care what subject applicants studied, said the poll of 187 personnel managers. The survey, by RRC Business Training, also revealed that nearly 90 per cent of employers would rather take on graduates with experience than an applicant with a postgraduate qualification, but no work record.