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New funding system offers major opportunity for part-time learners

Louise Casella

Louise Casella, Director of The Open University in Wales, explains how financial support for new students starting from September 2018 could make a major difference to the numbers of people studying part-time in Wales.

It is a busy and exciting time at The Open University in Wales as we are now open for students to register on our courses starting in October. This cohort of students will be the first to benefit from the Welsh Government’s new student support package; the only system in the UK to offer parity of support for full and part time students alike.  New part-time students starting their studies from September 2018, will be eligible for a non-means tested grant of up to £750 towards their living costs plus a further means-tested grant of up to £3,750 dependent on household income and study intensity. Students who do not receive the full grant amount, can apply for maintenance loans ensuring there is no financial barrier to study.

This approach, treating full and part-time students equally, is progressive and has the potential to make a significant difference to the number of part-time students in Wales. We are really excited about the opportunity that this presents us but the work starts now to reach as many potential learners as we can. You’ll see our new awareness raising campaign right across Wales but we also want to work through partners too.

The new student support package will make a significant difference to those who may have previously ruled out HE on financial grounds and in particular those who would like to stay where they are and study part-time. But the challenge now is to spread the word.  We must work together to ensure that all adult learners who could benefit from this opportunity are aware of it.  

Recently The Sutton Trust published a stark report on the decline in part-time student numbers in England.  The report claims that the 2012 increase in tuition fees in England has resulted in more than 40,000 ‘lost’ potential part-time students. Each of those lost students represents an individual missing out on a chance to improve their prospects and change their lives through part-time education. At the OU we see first-hand every day how second (or third or fourth) chances at a higher education bring benefits to individuals, to their families, to employers and to Wales as a whole.

Here in Wales even with a more supportive fee regime and significant political commitment to part-time study across all parties, we have also seen a decline in part-time student numbers in the past 5 years. The fact is that the barriers to studying part-time are many and varied; some can be addressed by government, some by employers and others by HE providers.  Even in a lower-fee environment, funding is a significant barrier to part-time study.  We know that part-time students are more debt averse than their younger full time counterparts – many have mortgages, existing debts and commitments, or are supporting their own children through university.  But we also know that almost three-quarters of our Open University students are in work when they study with us, already paying taxes and contributing to the economy and the OU has long called for a fee and funding support system that recognises this. And we’re delighted to say that here in Wales we now have it. 

Part-time HE is a force for good, a significant route to social mobility and a vehicle for upskilling our workforce. Wales does not want to be a country where you only get one chance at education. Now we have significant financial support available for many who can benefit from part-time HE we need to reach out and find them.  The Open University is keen to work with anyone who would like to help us with this important mission and make Wales the part-time HE success story of the UK and beyond.    

New financial support for students in Wales. Find out more

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