The Open University expressed deep concern at proposals in the UK Budget to delay and limit maintenance loans for undergraduates in England who wish to undertake part-time distance learning.
Treasury Budget documents revealed that plans for distance learners – who make up one third of all those who study part-time in England – were being delayed until 2019/20 and that, once introduced, recipients would receive lower loans than other students despite having similar needs.
The OU is seeking urgent clarification from the Department for Education on the loan proposals, which appear to reverse earlier policy.
Peter Horrocks, Vice-Chancellor of the OU, said:
“We are alarmed and deeply concerned at the watering down of a commitment to introduce maintenance loans for part-time distance learners.
“The delay in introducing the loans and the decision to limit their size compared to other students discriminates against the groups the Government says it wants to help. Ministers say they want to offer opportunity to all but this decision will adversely affect disabled students for whom distance learning is the best option and those from poorer backgrounds who need maintenance loans to support them while they study.
“The decision will affect one third of all part-time learners and seems to undermine the whole premise of the Government’s policy of arresting the decline in part-time study to help boost growth and close the productivity gap.”
The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, separately announced an allocation of £40 million to support the Government’s objectives of increasing skills training. He proposed a series of pilot schemes to identify gaps in lifelong learning and look for innovative and affordable solutions. The OU welcomed these initiatives.