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Lifetime loans for all students needed to tackle part-time crisis, says think tank

A conservative think tank has called on the government to introduce a "lifetime loan account" which all students would qualify for to pay for any kind of higher education, in a bid to tackle the dramatic drop in part-time study.

It should also require all major graduate recruiters to pay a graduate levy to subsidise lifetime loans, says a new paper from Bright Blue.

But to keep the cost to the taxpayer of the new system down, stricter rules on loan repayments would need to be applied, with the repayment threshold falling or the interest rate rising for each new course taken or as the student gets older.

The recommendations are based on the findings of a survey of over 1,500 English adults not currently considering part-time study which found that financial barriers were preventing over half from joining a part-time HE course.

The paper, Going Part-Time: Understanding and reversing the decline in part-time higher education, says it is “deeply worrying” that part-time study has been sharply declining in England in recent years, with the number of UK and other-EU undergraduate entrants dropping by 46 per cent between 2010-11 and 2013-14, and taught postgraduate entrants falling by 28 per cent in the same period.

Bright Blue says its survey shows that the decline is largely due to public sector austerity since the 2008-09 recession, with prospective students affected by a reduction in training from employers, cuts in public sector training budgets, the removal of government funding for students studying for an equivalent or lower qualification, and most recently changes to fee and loan arrangements leading to significant increases in fees while only a third of part-time students qualify for tuition loans.

Over half (54 per cent) of people polled said they had not entered part-time study in the past five years due to financial deterrents, while a third (34 per cent) cited practical barriers and 7 per cent lack of information.

To tackle the problem, Bright Blue recommends the introduction of a lifetime HE tuition fee loan account which all eligible adults should be able to access to pay for any kind of higher education throughout their lives to pay for undergraduate, postgraduate, full and part-time study.

The amount of the loan could be determined by the government following consultation, and the cost of the scheme should be subsidised by a training levy paid by all large graduate recruiters, with the amount paid possibly determined by how much an employer already invests in training.

The survey found that if a lifetime loan account was available, nearly 30 per cent of those polled would us it to pursue a Master’s course, while a quarter would take a lower level undergraduate qualification such as a Foundation Degree, and just under this proportion would take a first degree. The biggest proportion (over 35 per cent) said they would take a “taster” HE course.

The most popular subjects to study were computer studies and IT, followed by business and management, psychology and counselling, arts and humanities, and education.

The poll showed that personal motivations for study grow with age, while employment motivations decline, the crossover point being around the age of 45.