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Access may be barred to higher study

Greenwich University plans to abandon an access to higher education programme for mature students which it runs jointly with two further education colleges.

Hundreds of students in South-West London including the former mayor of Greenwich who is on the final year of her degree course, may have to drop their studies. It is the latest in the round of severe cuts in FE-HE link programmes following three years of Government reining in university spending.

The Greenwich Access Programme (GAP) was one of the first of its type in Britain - launched when the university was Woolwich Polytechnic. Students and staff will lobby councillors next Wednesday against the plans.

Many of the students are on local council grants so staff and students plan to lobby councillors to put pressure on the university to think again.

Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education, said: "This is a very sad day. The GAP programme was a prototype link for colleges and universities, giving local people real opportunities for higher education."

The university is one of three partners in GAP with Woolwich College and Greenwich Community College who bid separately for funds from the Further Education Funding Council.

Rob Imerson who runs the programme said the funding was not enough to cover it. "This is one of the problems for higher education institutions in that we don't have the critical mass of students." Of the 600 in GAP around 150 are at the university. After a review, the university decided to concentrate on giving pre-entry advice for mature students and stop teaching the course. Mr Imerson said course delivery would be enhanced at the other two institutions.

Bridget Leach, chair of the Woolwich branch of the lecturers' union NATFHE, dubbed his logic "Orwellian" as there was no evidence that hard-pressed colleges would be able to expand their courses. She feared 15 tutors on the programme would lose their jobs.

Vicky Morse, last year's mayor, is in her last year of an environmental biology degree.

"I feel a bit cheated because it suited the university to use me in promoting access courses, but now the financial climate has changed they've just switched off," she said.

She said she would not have gone on to a degree course if she had taken a college course. The idea of going to university was daunting, but on the GAP she was prepared for degree-level work by mixing with other students in the library and laboratories.

"I'm not rubbishing the provision of the colleges, but they are not a replacement for the university." She thought that the university, given its ambition to run the Royal Naval College, had a duty to the local community and not to close a vital service.

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