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No money, no home, only the will to win

Loo's story. The number of older people in higher education has doubled in the past 10 years, but research suggests that universities are not meeting their needs. Francis Beckett reports on why mature students risk poverty and ultimate disappointment, and talks toa former bag lady turned graduate and a waitress determined to change her life.

A three-year media studies degree at the University of Westminster means sacrifice and hardship for 26-year-old Loo How. Her student grant is so small as to be irrelevant. For the past two years she has studied full-time, and worked full-time as well. That means getting to college at l0am, leaving at 5 pm and rushing to a cafe in Hammersmith where she works as a waitress from 5.30pm until half-past midnight.

She is angry about it. "This Government is trying to keep education for the rich and the middle classes, sneakily phasing out every little bit of help there was for people like me, such as housing benefit. I lost my flat because I couldn't keep it on after they took the housing benefit away. I'm living in a tiny room in a women's housing project.

"It made me determined to finish the degree. I thought: they are not going to get away with this. I am going to make something of my life despite the Government. " Loo left school at the age of 15 with just two O-levels and has earned her living by waitressing ever since. She took an access course at Kensington and Chelsea College - "a fantastic course, it changed my life".

Skills learned there earned her a place at the University of Westminster, which pioneered media studies, where she specialises in video production: "A fabulous course, I'm so pleased I did it."

Why did she do it? "I didn't want to be a waitress all my life. And black women on television are generally seen as whores, nurses, maids or slaves, so I wanted to be behind the camera with the decision-makers. "

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