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A mature look at fees

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The situation for mature students concerns me. They've been left out in the cold, thawing in the shadows of middle class militancy and hyperbolic protester rhetoric.

Money


None of us know how the eye-watering £9,000 fees will affect university admissions. But behind all the hysteria of our children's future, spare a thought for adult learners.

When Labour introduced the £1,000 fee in 1997, admission figures for school leavers actually increased. Under Labour, national GCSE and A-level results have improved year-on-year. Unsurprisingly this has created more demand for places forming the pro-proposal argument: fees do not deter. Paradoxically, mature student applications dropped.

A year after the introduction cap, there was an 11.5% drop in applications from students in the 21-24 year-old group and a disappointing 15.1% reduction of those students who are over 25. Figures have since rose, stagnated and fell. Money is - and always has been - a barrier to higher education.

Figures released from Vince Cable's BIS department say two-thirds of part-time students will not be eligible for fee loans. All grants will be abolished in the proposed shake-up and the popular Open University will lose £84 million from its £191 million teaching grant. Nick Clegg told the Financial Times that this would mean part-time students were no longer singled out unfairly. By banding together a group of people with very different requirements and situations he's doing just the opposite.

The glaring omission in the public protests of what the proposed cuts mean to mature students is a stain on our sell-out political state. The hike in student fees affects not only tomorrow's children but today's tax-payer. Thursday's round up of whip-lashed MPs could prove pivotal for the future of thousands of adults who break barriers everyday to better their future.

Sure, some of the proposals will mean people from poorer backgrounds may have a chance of paying less than they do now and that the difference in fees will create greater competition. Borrowed cash demands higher standards and that needs to be credited.

But why are we rushing this through when proper consultation needs to be addressed?

Some of my friends at University never saw out our formal education, one had a baby, one took a liking to petty theft and copious marijuana consumption, others, didn't feel like it was the right time. For me money concerns overshadowed education. Higher education creates change.

London's major adult education institute Birkbeck University has 18,479 students on its books. The vast majority study part time. You work your daily 9-6 crust, study three evenings a week straight after work, revise the weekend and go back to work. This is a very different life to a student fresh from school. If you can take the mental strain, the sudden social detachment and financial burden, after four years your bona fide degree allows you the chance to join the saturated graduate careers markets. So why bother? For some, it's because they felt they were never given the chance in the first place, others, its maturity, insight and the desire to break out of the daily circle.

There is no evidence that higher tuition fees deter students from entering. Figures are speculative and interpretive. That's why we need more time to discuss Browne's report and the government proposals.

Perhaps like me, you had a few years out there mixed up in a phalanx of menial jobs and trapped into a lineage of work.

Until you've figured out what it is that you really want to do, for some this is the only option. If you're lucky and found a course that matches your ambition, the thought of returning to education is a daunting prospect. The government shouldn't be making it worse. But maybe you've already ceased to fight. Why? Money won. It always does.

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