Learning Grant Bar Faces OU Students

Article excerpt

Byline: Rhodri Clark

An open University student says she is being forced to work as a cleaner and barmaid to make ends meet because of a lack of support for OU undergraduates.

The National Assembly's new Learning Grant excludes OU students.

And one university college says it is normal for universities to bar OU students from their high-tech computer systems for vital coursework and to communicate with tutors.

The different treatment of OU students could become a sore point as more young people turn to the OU to avoid running up big debts under Labour's tuition fees.

Heather Graham, the OU's Welsh director, said support for part-time students - who make up 40% of UK undergraduates - would be a major issue as the Bill for variable university fees passed through Parliament.

Students aged under 24 now make up more than 10% of OU undergraduates and in the last five years the OU in Wales has seen a 68% rise in students aged 21 and under.

One of those students, 21-year-old Eva Finneran, gave up her course at a traditional campus because of financial pressures. The OU has waived tuition fees for the first year of her humanities course because of her low income.

But when she asked about an Assembly Learning Grant, she was surprised to learn it was for students at all other universities in Wales.

'If you're doing a full-time degree, you spend as much time studying as anyone at a traditional university. I don't see why OU students don't get the grant just because they're not in an institute,' she said.

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesman said, 'Open University students are not eligible for the Assembly Learning Grant. This is because the ALG was introduced in 2002 to provide guaranteed support for those students who previously had to rely on discretionary funding from their universities - known as hardship funds.

'The Assembly provided hardship funds for Welsh Universities. The Open University, where hardship funds are concerned, are not classed as a Welsh university; they receive their hardship funds from the UK Department for Education and Skills.'

Dr Graham said the OU had been excluded from the pilot year of ALGs but discussions were under way about extending the grants, which could increase overall funding for Welsh OU students.

Miss Finneran has a word processor at home but no internet connection.

Despite living in Aberystwyth - a town that prospers on higher education - she has had trouble finding a computer for access to online OU resources and for e-mailing essays to her tutor. She said the town's public library and internet cafe were too oversubscribed or costly. …