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Letters extra: Mature students need realistic financial support

In September 2001, at the age of 42, I began a degree course which I believed would eventually lead to my becoming a qualified teacher. This was a long held "dream" yet setting out on this path had been delayed for more than ten years as I had to wait until my children were established in school. As some of my children have special educational needs, this took longer than it may for others. I would continue to work part time as a nurse and my husband would work overtime for three years in an attempt to ensure we were financially secure.

The course fulfilled all my expectations and more. It proved to be stimulating, challenging and thoroughly enjoyable. The tutors were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and supportive. I will not however be returning to the course this semester. A series of usual household disasters has meant that I now need to increase my paid working hours. I cannot do justice to myself, my family or the course at the same time. Nor can I imagine that I will be able to return to the course at a later date.

I did receive a student loan. As a full-time mature student I would have a debt of over pound;12,000 at the end of the three-year course. Realistically however this debt would be much greater as pound;4,000 per year does not go much beyond education expenses. After only one semester we will need to continue working overtime simply to meet the debts caused by the "luxury" of my very short time in higher education. Luxury it indeed is; the opportunities for mature would-be students seem limited in comparison with younger people who do not have other commitments.

The current system of financial "support" for mature students with other commitments, ie, children, houses of just lives to live, disallows people like me from further education. I cannot describe the sadness I have felt at having to give up my education. I have life skills, experience of the "work place", experience of the education system both as a parent and as an employee, experience of inter-agency working within the education system both as a parent and as an employee; yet still this is not enough.

There is a widely reported shortage of effective teachers. There is an even greater shortage of realistic financial support for mature students.

Janet Lee
124 Queensway
Leeds LS19 7PB

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