The new University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) is urging the Scottish Government to give parity of funding support to part-time students – “the Cinderellas of higher education.”
Most part-timers have to pay tuition fees while full-time school leavers and young people in Scotland are exempt.
In its response to the government’s Green Paper consultation on the future of higher education funding, UHI says the amount of support funding for full-time students should be available for their part-time fellows on a pro-rata basis.
“This is the only equitable solution. Challenging as this is, it is critical if higher education is going to develop towards greater flexibility,” the UHI response states.
UHI - a lifelong learning university with nearly 60 per cent of students studying part-time and a similar proportion aged over 25 - believes that many prospective part-time learners who are currently unemployed are effectively barred from gaining qualifications because of the current support funding rules.
James Fraser, the UHI principal and vice-chancellor, said policymakers and commentators were fixated on school leavers and young people in the debate over higher education funding - to the detriment of lifelong learners.
He described part-time students – many of whom were aiding the economic recovery by re-skilling - as the “Cinderellas” of higher education who deserved funding support.
He said: “In 2009/10, 55 per cent of our learners studied part-time and 58 per cent (many of them the same learners) were aged over 25.
“We are concerned that the Green Paper still presents much of its thinking about learners in relation to a traditional school-leaver undertaking four years of higher education towards an honours degree. Our own view is that demand for less-structured, lifelong learning, including work-based opportunities, is likely to increase.
“Part-time study is essential to the Scottish solution, driving greater flexibility and choice, raising skills of the workforce and broadening participation in higher education.” UHI endorses the view that the state should retain the prime responsibility for higher education funding, but also recognises that some form of graduate contribution is inevitable in current circumstances – providing it is not to the detriment of groups in society who are still under-represented.
Scotland’s newest university – granted title in February this year – evolved from the higher education institution UHI Millennium Institute and is a partnership of 13 colleges and research centres across the region. It enables people of all ages to access higher education in their own communities.
Mr Fraser said: “We recognise the challenge in funding universities and higher education institutions in Scotland so that they can continue to support economic, social and cultural development.
“This is especially significant in the Highlands and Islands where the continued development of UHI is widely recognised as being central to the future of the region and the sustainability of many of its communities.”