Distance Learning: The Benefits of Studying at Home A Government Initiative Encourages People on Income Support to Learn, and the Open University Is All Set to Help

By Maureen O'Connor | The Independent (London, England), July 29, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Distance Learning: The Benefits of Studying at Home A Government Initiative Encourages People on Income Support to Learn, and the Open University Is All Set to Help


Maureen O'Connor, The Independent (London, England)


Distance learning is ideal for students who cannot get away from home to take a full time course at university or college. The Open University was launched partly on the premiss that there was a pool of under-qualified people - many of them at that time teachers without degrees - who'd welcome the chance to study part time at their own pace, based in their own homes. And so the OU, currently with 165,000 part time students, proved triumphantly. But the pool's not empty yet, and the Government's latest initiative to pay the fees of part time students on benefits will reveal just how deep it still is.

George Mudie, minister for lifelong learning, launched the new scheme at the OU in May. It means that people in receipt of income support, jobseeker's allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit, and some others on very low incomes, will have their fees waived at most higher education institutions from the start of the next academic year.

The waiver will include existing students as well as those about to start a course, and will cover students on first-degree, HND or HNC courses that are equivalent to at least 50 per cent of a full time course. Students in further education with fees already waived will continue to qualify if funding is transferred to the Higher Education Funding Council. The scheme will not cover postgraduate study.

The Open University is hoping to attract many of the 25,000 students who could benefit. It estimates that it could take up to 10,000 extra recruits next year. It has already been allocated 4,000 more places as part of the Government's initiative to increase participation by students from poor backgrounds. "The OU is an excellent example of the potential benefits of the new scheme," said Mr Mudie, launching it at the OU's Milton Keynes HQ. "The OU has a 30-year record of ensuring all sections of the community can participate in higher education." In fact, the OU has campaigned for some time for better treatment of students wishing to study part time, and already has its own financial assistance fund for students on benefits.

"It is good to see so many new students being offered the chance to fulfil their potential," says Sir John Daniel, the Vice- chancellor. "It's an important step towards the goal of national lifelong learning."

Typical of the students the scheme is intended to help, is Michele Major, a 30-year-old mother of two who has been on income support since she separated from her husband two years ago.

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