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Higher Education: Finance

Volume 475: debated on Monday 28 April 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills if he will make an estimate of the cost to the public purse of making the support available to part-time first degree undergraduates equivalent to that of full-time first degree undergraduates in respect of (a) grants, (b) student loans and (c) bursaries; and if he will make a statement. (196032)

There are around 200,000 part-time first degree undergraduates compared to around one million full-time. To estimate the cost to the public purse of giving part-time students the full-time package of support is complicated due to their diverse nature. We can give very broad estimates based on the assumptions we hold for full-time students and replicating the exact same package of support. This enables us to estimate grant costs in the region of £250 million and loan costs also in the region of £250 million per year. We are not able to estimate the cost to the public purse of bursaries as institutions determine the eligibility criteria and are responsible for payments.

These estimates assume that part-time students are identical to full-time students in every respect except they are part-time. They are highly dependent on uncertain factors such as household incomes on which student support is assessed, eligibility for and take-up of support, level of fees charged and earnings following completion of the course, all of which have been assumed the same as for full-time students. The support has not been pro-rated, but if part-time students take twice as long to complete their course compared to a full-time student the costs would be around a half.

This Government were the first to introduce statutory support for part-time students, in 2000-01. In 2006-07, we introduced the most generous package of financial support ever for part-time students in England. This included increasing the maximum fee grant by 27 per cent. and an above-inflation increase in the income threshold for receiving this support. The part-time package is different from the support available to full-time students because it has been designed to meet the particular needs of part-time students. Unlike full-time students, many part-time students are in full-time employment —two thirds according to the Woodley report, published at the end of 2004. That report also found that 36 per cent. of part-time students receive full fee support from their employer.

We must ensure that statutory student support is carefully focussed to achieve maximum benefit.