By Marcus Leach

From 2012 eligible part-time students will be able to borrow the full cost of their tuition fees for the first time.

Changes announced today (Wednesday) will see students becoming eligible to start making repayments over four years after commencing study, up from three years as previously planned.

"We are extending tuition loan support to part-time students so that they are treated more fairly than ever before," Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said.

"We have listened carefully to the sector, including Birkbeck and the Open University, about the details of this because we are determined to provide the best possible regime for part-time students. I can now announce that we will amend the legislation so that no part-time student will have to repay a penny until almost five years after their course has started.

“Employers particularly value graduates who already have experience of the workplace, which is why making part time study more accessible is so important.”

Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, said:

“We are delighted by the Government’s decision regarding part-time repayment arrangements. This provides even more flexibility for part-time students who, for the first time ever, will not have to pay upfront and will not have to start repaying their loan until at least four years after they have started their studies. This is another important step to ensure that the UK has a higher education system which is innovative, flexible and offers students the highest quality.

“Now more than ever, the UK needs to upskill its workforce and tap the potential of people from all backgrounds. We look forward to continuing to work with Ministers and all parties over the coming months to ensure that we continue to have a world class sector that is open to all who have the ambition to succeed.”

Professor David Latchman CBE, Master of Birkbeck, said:

"We are delighted that the Government has understood the need to put part-time students on a level footing with full-timers. We can now communicate clear and compelling messages to our non traditional students — undergraduate study will be free at the point of study and loan repayment starts after graduation when salaries are £21,000 or above.

"For many part-time students, who are more likely to be mature students, juggling study with family, mortgages and other financial commitments, this will be an important consideration when thinking about entering higher education. This is a vital step towards securing equity for the part-time and full-time sectors."

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