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College stamps on would-be drop-outs

One urban college is offering students who have dropped out the chance to continue their studies through free correspondence courses.

In an example of the imaginative responses to the keeping-up-the-numbers game, Manchester College of Arts and Technology will stay in touch by post with students no longer able to attend classes in person.

The aim, according to principal Nye Rowlands, is to maintain an umbilical link - however remote - between the college and the anticipated 18-20 per cent of students who will abandon their courses early - mainly because of money problems.

As soon as they drop out, students will be contacted by their tutor and offered a correspondence course or an open-learning programme. Once that is under way, they will be encouraged to visit college when possible for tutorials, always with the aim in mind of an eventual return.

"The correspondence courses will act as a kind of bridge," says Mr Rowlands. "We are saying to students, 'This is not a bank where we don't want you if your money runs out. It is a college, and we want to keep you'."

Improved ways of tracking students who drop out of the inner-city college have revealed that three-quarters of the 80 per cent traced after leaving give up their courses for financial reasons.

Manchester invests Pounds 37,000 annually in its access fund, topped up with Pounds 110,000 to help about 800 students with travel costs, but for many the hand-outs are not enough to make up for withdrawn benefit.

Mr Rowlands takes a vitriol-soaked line on the Department of Social Security - "as far as I am concerned they are the modern-day Stasi" - and is doing his best to catch those potential students put off enrolling by the thought of losing their entitlement. The college has targeted job clubs for new recruits, assuring claimants their details will not be revealed to the benefits office.

"We are adapting to adult learners with enormous financial problems who are trying to maintain some kind of state benefit while trying to improve their education opportunities," he says.

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