HC Deb 12 February 2004 vol 417 cc1552-3
4. Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab)

What plans he has made for financial support for part-time students in higher education. [154513]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Alan Johnson)

More money is being invested in part-time students. As a result, the number who will get help with their fees should more than double. From 2004–05, low-income, part-time students will qualify for a course grant of £250 and a fee grant of up to £575 a year. The part-time sector makes a valuable contribution to our widening participation agenda, and the needs of part-time students will continue to be taken into account as we develop student support policy further.

Mrs. Campbell

That is indeed welcome news and will be greatly appreciated by the 35 per cent. of students at Anglia polytechnic university who are mature part-time students. Can my hon. Friend tell me, however, whether his future plans for higher education will include the abolition of up-front fees for part-time students as well as full-time students, as well as access to the generous maintenance loans that he also proposes for full-time students?

Alan Johnson

There are couple of points there. First, for mature full-time students, the grant is particularly important because all that they could access previously was a loan, on which an age limit applied. Now, however, that does not apply to the grant, so some of those mature students will qualify for a grant, whereas they did not qualify for a loan. On fee remission, it would be enormously expensive, as I am sure my hon. Friend recognises, for us to introduce fee remission for 42 per cent. of the higher education student population. Nevertheless, our current focus on part-time students and, with the passage of the Bill, the facility for a fee remission system, which does not exist at present, will be enormously helpful. Finally, in terms of extra help for part-time students, we do not currently know much about their difficulties because they have not been included in any previous student income and expenditure survey. From this year, they will be included for the first time, which will help us to identify their specific problems and to include them in future proposals for assistance with grants and loans.