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Part measures for part-timers;Opinion

WHEN FURTHER and higher education gathered last month to discuss the embryonic Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework, pressure was put on the Education Minister to do something for part-time students. It has not taken Helen Liddell long to respond, albeit in modest terms. Part-timers in HE on low incomes will soon be entitled to loans of up to pound;500 to help with books and equipment.

This measure of encouragement follows the decision last autumn to give free tuition to part-time students who are unemployed or on low incomes. The aim is to ensure that aspirants to a better place in the labour market are not caught in the familiar poverty trap of seeing the goal but having to make an unacceptable sacrifice to attain it. Part-time study combined with earning an income or bringing up a family will not be easy. Eighteen-year-olds going up from school to university in the traditional way are to be envied by comparison, despite tuition fees and loans. But every little helps, and the latest concession is in line with the Government's social inclusion policy.

Speakers at the credit and qualifications conference made clear that institutions have recognised the role of non-traditional student markets and of the need to smooth the way into further education and thence, for some, to higher education. Enrolment in universities is due to rise again soon, more gently than earlier in the decade but after a couple of years in which the Government drew in the horns. Flexibility in teaching hours will help in recruiting part-time students, and so will the removal of at least some financial disincentive.

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