Abandoned trainees

MARY Lucas is the sort of candidate the Open University had in mind when it launched its distance-learning scheme, four years ago. With a young family and a home in rural Wiltshire, she finds it impractical to follow a full-time, traditional course at university.

"I'm so furious," she says of last week's shock decision to suspend the OU training scheme, the only one of its type. "There must be people in my situation who have given up jobs.

"I want to do this course because it fits it with my family. I'm ringing round to see how else I can train, but so far I'm drawing a blank."

Mary lives with her husband and three children in Malmesbury, 50 miles away from the nearest university at Bath or Bristol. Studying for a standard post graduate certificate in education would mean a 7.30am start and arriving home mid-evening.

She ought to be the sort of high-quality material the Government says it wants to recruit: she has a degree in human movement studies and experience in the pharmaceutical industry.

The OU certainly rated her, and wrote to say so. "They very kindly sent me an additional letter to present to any other training establishment saying what an excellent applicant I'd be," she says. "But there's no way I can use it to get on another course, because there are no other courses. It means I have either to wait a few years or move house."

In Dunchurch, near Rugby, another mother of three, Kathryn Huggett is also glued to the telephone. "I'm outraged. I had no warning of it," she says. "I have been phoning other places, but their application forms for September 99 went out on the first of this September." It may, in other words, be too late.

The 41-year-old pharmacy graduate already works as a classroom assistant. "The OU course was ideal because I could base myself at home. There are hundreds of people who have been treated badly."

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