Thursday, 25 October 2007

Student funding

The UK Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills want to end funding for students who have an existing qualification at or below the level they wish to study (equivalent or lower qualifications = ELQs) in order to give the money saved - in excess of 100m to other priorities. They have not said what these are, but have stated that on the grounds of "fairness" first time students should come first in a tight spending round. A consultation is taking place, and the government is intending to phase in the cut over three years with various mechanisms of mitigation for institutions proposed. They are also intending to exempt some categories of student, and some strategic subject areas - predominantly languages and sciences. It is likely that students receiving employer support will also be exempted. The new policy, which was announced without any consultation with relevant players in the sector, will have a number of unintended consequences - not the least that one potential mechanism for delivering learning to hard to reach first time students - lifelong learning departments - will face closure, and institutions specializing in mature student and part-time study, such as the OU and Birkbeck severely damaged. Yet, John Denham (the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills) recently urged universities to increase the number of adult students and expand the number of evening classes and part-time degrees to play a greater role in enhancing the skills of the workforce and further widening participation. Of possible concern to members of this list is that it is likely that some subjects will be damaged more than others. Thus subjects which learners are more likely to study later in life, when they are already qualified in some other subject, and which are unlikely to attract support from employers, will be differentially affected. It is not yet proven but seems very likely that philosophy, which is not amongst the exempted subjects deemed to be "strategically important and vulnerable," will be among the subjects affected in this way. Though some departments may be only marginally affected, historically philosophy has been a popular choice for those returning to learning later in life, especially through part-time routes. The principle of the 'strategically important and vulnerable subject' is also one that should worry many academics. In this exercise, it is being imported as a criterion for denying funding to one group of ELQs, whilst giving it to another. Some may suspect that, if accepted now, this will later become a principle to be applied in rationing the core funding of Humanities, Arts and Social Science subjects. The Master of Birkbeck college had this to say: His statement neatly encapsulates what many see as the contradictions in the government policy. May I respectfully urge UK members of this list to watch this issue closely. The consultation with further background is at Members of the list may also wish to know of the online petition, relevant to the lifelong implications of the issue, set up by students at

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