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The Browne Review and Mature and Part-time Students

Lord Browne

The Independent Review into Higher Education Funding and Student Finance (the Browne Review) published its final report on 12 October 2010.

The Review's remit covered the funding of all undergraduate education, including part-time funding. The recommendations are highly controversial, with Browne proposing that there be no cap on fees for full-time students, and a withdrawal of 80 per cent of public funding for teaching in higher education.
 
The Liberal Democrats all signed a pledge to vote against higher tuition fees before the last election and will be under huge pressure not to break this pledge when the changes are debated in Parliament.
 
The Mature and Part-time students' campaign will take a strong interest in the campaign to fight for a fair funding system – and it is vital therefore, to understand the impact of the proposals on mature and part-time students.
 
Part-time students
There are some more welcome proposals where part-time students are concerned. The report recommends:
 
  • extending the full-time fee funding arrangements to part-time students, presumably (although this is not stated) on a pro-rata basis
  • reducing the intensity of study that qualifies for such support to 1/3 from the present 1/2 – in other words, providing support to courses which take up to three times as long as an equivalent full-time course
  • the number of years of part-time support will be extended to 9 years to take the extension of support into account
NUS supports providing equality of support to part-time courses, and such a move is long overdue.  However, as welcome as this move is, the impact of the proposals on part-time study is still a concern. This is principally because the fee regime as proposed would in all likelihood mean higher fees for part-time courses, as universities are no longer restricted by the fact students cannot access full funding, and because they must now replace lost public funds. 
 
In addition, a drop in employer support for part-time study might also be expected, as sponsorship will be deemed less necessary by bosses if loans are available.  
 
Opposing the draconian cuts to public funding of higher education must therefore be a priority if part-time students are not to be deterred by higher fee levels just as they are finally able to access full support for their education costs.
 
Mature students
Although none of the proposals are directed at mature students specifically, and there is no suggestion mature students would be treated differently, if adopted the proposals would nevertheless impact on mature students as a group.
 
As most part-time students are mature, the changes discussed above would of course be relevant – but the impact would be wider.
 
For example, as a group, mature students are more likely to be debt-averse and so the proposals to increase significantly student debt may have a negative impact on the participation of mature students. Moreover, the proposal to extend the write-off period for student loans from 25 to 30 year will mean some mature students could be paying off loans well into retirement (although the repayment threshold will rise to income over £21,000 per year).
 
These and other issues will be considered by the Mature and Part-time students committee, and they will feed into the NUS work on the issue. This includes the National Demonstration on 10 November in central London – and attendance from mature and part-time students will be vital in ensuring a successful demo, and in highlighting the specific impacts on our students.
 
Further information
 
For the full initial response to the Review from NUS, summarising the recommendations and the NUS click here.
 
For details of the NUS/UCU National Demonstration in London on 10 November 2010, where we will be protesting about the cuts to public funding to education and opposing the findings of the Browne Review, click here.

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