I have posted before about the impact on John Denham's letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England on University Adult Education here, here, and here. Open University students who are campaigning against the cuts have contacted me and one of them, Donald Hedges, has had a letter from his MP which he has summarised on his new blog.
Letters from MPs are usually masterpieces at saying nothing and are formulaic in repeating 'the line'. This one is no exception and the 'line' appears to be somewhat divorced from reality. So I have suggestions for some supplementary questions that Donald could write back with.
1. The letter talks about shifting institutional funding away from "second degree" students.
My question would be whether he realises that this is not just about people taking second degrees but the whole range of Lifelong Learning qualifications in Universities. These include University Certificates, Certificates, Diplomas and, above all, short courses that can include all types of work such as, liberal adult education, continuing professional development, work related learning, community development, etc.? The government clearly realised the damage that would be done to Foundation Degrees, which is why they have exempted them. Why not these as well?
2. The letter mentions the government wants more people of all ages and backgrounds to enter Higher Education for the first time.
So do we all, but my question would be whether he has considered that taking out around a third of the students in Lifelong Learning could so affect the financial viability of programmes and departments that the very flexible provision and infrastructure required to deliver these new opportunities could be lost?
3. The letter says "we will also support students doing second qualifications, provided the costs are co-funded by their employers, as Sandy Leitch recommended".
My main question would be, given that large amounts of work related learning and continuing professional development will be lost as a result of the decision, does he seriously think that co-funding can possibly replace what will have gone? There is a range of supplementaries to be asked too. What is his position over employers who are unwilling to pay? Will he be proposing statutory rights for employees to further their education? What about areas of the country or industries (such as tourism or the creative arts) that are dominated by Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) who are simply unable to pay?
4. The letter is full of the word 'fairness'. I want to use an unfashionable example. Take a retired student now studying in adult education. The person may have got a degree forty years ago. After paying taxes for those forty years to pay for others to take adult education classes now it is her turn, but she finds herself barred as she has just been made unfundable. Is that fair?
Chris Dillow has eloquently made the point that fairness does not extend to tax breaks for the wealthy and one just has to wonder when one puts this cut into the context of the highly political concession on inheritance tax.
So it is over to you Donald, and, by the way, this is Donald's constituency.
Olly makes the same point better than Chris Dillow