Access students say they won't give up

1st August 1997 at 01:00
Dearing and Garrick reports under scrutiny as implications for higher education sink in.

The Government's contentious plans to abolish student grants may not deter working-class ambitions, staff and students at Glasgow Caledonian University said this week. A strong motivation to improve career chances may outweigh the added cost of the move to loans.

The university consistently attracts higher numbers of students from low-income homes and more adult returners - 55 per cent of entrants are over the age of 21.

Gill Troup, head of student services, said: "Since loans were introduced we have had a target of 15 per cent from lower income groups and we have met that with ease." She accepts some students may be deterred because of the need to borrow larger amounts but said: "The enhanced earnings potential of graduates could offset costs hugely."

Students at Caledonian are already familiar with incurring debt. Four out of 10 first-year students - about 1,000 - work, Ms Troup says. The reality, she argues, is that the grant is small and does not even meet the costs of accommodation. Students run up thousands of pounds of debt via loans, overdrafts and credit cards. "The principle is well established," she said.

Ms Troup believes the Dearing reforms offer a better deal for part-time students, who often come through non-traditional routes, and better targeting of access funds for students most in need. They should also make it easier for unemployed adults to study. Universities could do much to alleviate cases of genuine hardship, she says.

Students on the six-week science access course are divided about the likely impact of the move to full loans and the introduction of tuition fees. Stephanie Garrett, aged 18, who has just left Stranraer Academy, knows it will be tough to survive under the current regime and finds it strange the Government is trying to increase student numbers while cutting grants. "It seems only the rich people get to university," she says. None of her family have gone before.

However, she takes a pragmatic view. "If I get a good job, it could work out for the better in the longer run. It is worth taking the risk."

That is a view shared by 17-year-old Lorraine McKenzie, who recently left Braidfield High in Clydebank. She will continue to work part-time if she gets on to a Higher National course at Clydebank College. So will the loans put her off? "I suppose it will be a deterrent because I know how much it is going to cost but going to university or college does give you a better chance of a job and a better lifestyle. I want a job I am going to enjoy and keeps me secure. It is a risk I am willing to take," she says.

Margaret Hoisington, from Uddingston, aged 33, is planning to quit her part-time job as a staff nurse to pursue a course in psychology. When she left school, university or college was not an option for a girl from a large working-class family, she says. She is married and has two boys aged five and eight.

Mrs Hoisington agrees with the principle of students paying their way and will work two nights a week to cover her expenses. "People will not be put off. Most students I know all have part-time jobs. Education is for life," she insists.

Barry Turnbull, aged 24, originally from Comrie, is a switherer. Somewhat ironically, for three years he has put off a career switch because of fears of losing money in the short term. He served his time as an aircraft fitter and is currently working in Glasgow for Direct Line in tele-sales but wants to be an optician. He will continue to work part-time to finance his course at Coatbridge College.

"It is worth being in debt for a little while if it puts me in a more secure position," he admits. But he says the prospect of student debt repayments on top of mortgage repayments and the possibility of supporting a young family could be too much for some.

John Phillips, the university's vice-principal, said access students had shown they could attain high grades if they get through the difficult transition year. But Professor Phillips said that "a debt aversion culture" had to be overcome.

Research at Caledonian has discovered that problems with course choice are the principal reason for dropping out, followed by financial hardship.

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