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.

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Author: dougclow

Academic in the Institute of Educational Technology, the Open University, UK. Interested in technology-enhanced learning and learning analytics.

One thought on “Mature students: Follow the money”

  1. When I explain this policy to those not in HE, they seem to think it’s fair and good, because people who haven’t got a degree should be chosen for funding over those who already have one. Obviously. And this is the angle being touted on the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (‘Divies’) website. There’s lots of mention of ‘fair’ on there.

    But why is this being presented as a choice? I can’t help thinking that if we weren’t funding –to take a random example– an illegal war and research into a giant citizen database masked by an identity card scheme, then there’d be plenty of money for both.

    Anyway, let me try to cheer you.

    In the prisons we’ve been losing students. The drive to computerise student services has put more and more courses on what we call the red list: courses unavailable to prison students. That automation makes lots of sense in many contexts, but now some faculties won’t make reasonable adjustments for prisoners without internet access, even in non-technical fields. We *know* this is an accessibility issue, but on the ground we’ve seen what looks like a real lack of will to do much about it.

    Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t believe you should be barred by IT connectivity issues from completing a BA (Literature) in prison.

    I can’t help thinking that the imminent loss of 35 megapounds will sharpen the resolve to get some of these students back again.

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