Anna Fazackerley

A beacon of hope?

A beacon of hope?
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Let’s be frank. If you get AAB in your A-level results tomorrow and your university offer is for three As – or worse, if you haven’t secured a place at all yet – things do not look good. Leading research universities have all wedged their doors firmly shut. This year was hugely competitive with great heaps of top grade applicants to choose from (that, of course, is another story). And they are determined not to take any of the 10,000 extra unfunded places thrust at them by a Government desperate to quell the rising tide of Parent Fury. Some modern universities will still enter Clearing. But it will be a fleeting and messy telephone bun-fight – for a pitifully small plateful of buns. No, things do not look good. In Friday’s papers, rather than the usual whooping blonde teenage girls clutching their results letters and each other, expect pictures of distraught 18 year-olds facing the dole queue, and tales of parents who have been on the phone begging for ten hours and now realise their sulky teenager will not be leaving home after all.

But then there is the beacon. Under instructions from the Government, the admissions service will be flagging up part-time courses that might still be able to squeeze students in. ‘Study part-time?’ the students and parents will think. ‘Hmmm, maybe that makes sense. You can work at the same time, boosting your experience and lessening your debt.’ It doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Yet what UCAS will not be shouting about is the raw deal that these students will get. If you study part-time there are no loans – which means you have not only to find the cash yourself, but also pay it upfront. Plus your chances of securing any help at all from the Government are incredibly slim. At present, while all full-time students are entitled to some financial aid, parliamentary questions have revealed that nine out of ten part-time students receive nothing at all.

One-third of all undergraduate students are now studying part-time, but the Government is still trying very hard to pretend they don’t exist. It spent £937 million on maintenance and tuition fee grants for full-time students last year (not to mention the billions that went into student loans). In glaring contrast, it forked out a measly £40 million for fee and course grants for part-timers.

The common response to this is that surely employers will pay? And yes – one-third of part-time students do have some cash from their employers. The catch is that the money tends to go to those students who need help the least. A 40 year-old banker doing a part-time professional management course will probably have a cheque from his employer, but a single mother who wants to train for something other than another bar job probably won’t. And of course, coming back to our depressed 18 year-olds – which employer is going to pay for them?

So if you or your children are frantically surfing the UCAS site tomorrow, don’t be fooled by the flashing sign that says part-timers this way. It isn’t a beacon of hope. It is a desperate swindle from a Government that hopes you won’t notice how badly it has messed up. You’d better go out and buy that book on gap years.

Anna Fazackerley is Head of Education at Policy Exchange.