Tuition fees and part-timers again

Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills,  has announced some tweaks to the Government’s proposals on student tuition fees.

Leaving aside the broad direction of the policy for a moment (swapping state funding for student-paid fees), one of the huge problems for the OU with the original proposals was the idea that part-time students would only be eligible for loans if they were studying at 33% intensity, equivalent to 40 credit points. As I posted, this came out of the Browne Review and was part of the original Government package. This is a huge problem for the OU because lots of our students study 30 points a year – we have lots of 30 point courses! With the original plan, we’d struggle – trying to rework lots of our existing 30-point courses at 40 pointers, dealing with students who had taken on 60 points when they only had time for 30, etc.

But Vince Cable’s written ministerial statement [.doc] says:

However, discussion with the higher education sector has highlighted that the proposed threshold of 33% intensity for full loan entitlement may inadvertently deprive a significant number of learners from receiving support.  We therefore propose that the level of intensity be reduced to 25%  –  i.e. any eligible student studying for more than a quarter of their time will be eligible for full loan support for their tuition costs.

So they’ve listened, and changed this to 30 points, which is a huge relief. As Vince Cable rather understatedly puts it:

This will better reflect the way that many part time courses are structured.

Too right it will.

Other changes to the package are welcome signs of some responsiveness to criticism: the £21,000 income threshold for paying back loans will be uprated every year in line with wages, not every five years, and the £15,000 threshold for existing loans will rise similarly.

There’s still a massive amount of uncertainty for the OU. And a massive detrimental impact on students. And very bad news for the sector as a whole.

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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.