Mature students: Follow the money

I was – like many OU colleagues – dismayed at the Government’s announcement late last week that funding for students studying second or subsequent degrees is to be stopped.

Many of the OU’s students already have a degree.  There’s been much talk of us shifting from being the ‘University of the Second Chance’ to the ‘University of the Second Time’.  Makes unarguable sense in a world where lifelong learning is increasingly obviously a necessity.  These students – unsurprisingly – tend to do a lot better than average in terms of sticking with their course and getting good marks at the end of it.

If HMG does cut this funding, the OU is in serious – and we are talking spectacularly serious – financial trouble.  We’re working out just how serious at the moment, and our VC has promised that once we have ‘we will register, most vigorously, our concerns’.  (I for one wouldn’t like to be on the the receiving end of vigorous concerns from her.)

And it does very much look like the rug being pulled out from under any idea that the Government is committed to lifelong learning, reskilling, and all that stuff.

But then today in the news I hear that the Universities Secretary is urging universities to attract more mature students by designing courses to fit in with with people’s lives. Er, like, say, the Open University model where you can work and study at the same time?

So in this post-Leitch “70% of the 2020 workforce have already left school” world, do they want more mature students or not?

I was annoyed and baffled at the apparent contradiction in policy direction until my colleague Paul pointed out that the policy is entirely consistent:  they’re not remotely talking about making any more money available for this.  The whole idea – from Leitch and enthusiastically taken up by the Government – is for industry to pay for (any) expansion.  Now it all makes – deeply dismaying – sense.