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The UK's only independent think tank devoted to higher education.

Rule change could enable more prisoner learning with positive impacts

  • 24 October 2019

In a joint Policy Nrote, Student loans for those on long sentences, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the Open University argue for an end to the rule preventing prisoners from accessing student loans until they are within six years of release.

The proposal suggests letting longer-serving prisoners apply for student loans and begin their studies earlier could help to rehabilitate inmates.

It is estimated that the change could lead to approximately 200 more students per year doing distance learning with the Open University.

The projected cost of the extra entrants (£2.3 million) is set against the potential saving to the public purse which could be three times greater because of reduced reoffending rates.

Ruth McFarlane, Senior Manager, Students in Secure Environments Team at The Open University said:

A fundamental part of the OU’s mission is to open up higher education to everyone, regardless of background. We know that education has the power to transform lives and is recognised as one of the pillars of effective rehabilitation. 

As well as the potential savings identified to the public purse by this proposal, we believe that in addition, with the right support, more people in prison can leave with qualifications and aspirations that change their lives and allow them to make valuable contributions to society and the economy upon release.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

Very occasionally, even when you know a policy area well, you come across something that simply beggars belief. For me, the fact that prisoners can’t access tuition fee loans unless they are six years from release falls into that category.

Prisoners who seek to improve their education are positive role models for other prisoners and are less likely to reoffend on release. So it is hard to imagine anyone on either the right or left of politics could want the current obstacles to learning to stay in place.

As they write their manifestoes for the next general election, all the political parties should consider a new commitment to helping prisoners better themselves through education.

Notes to Editors

  1. HEPI was established in 2002 to shape the higher education policy debate through evidence. It is the United Kingdom’s only independent think tank devoted to higher education. HEPI is a non-partisan charity funded by organisations and universities that wish to see a vibrant higher education debate.
  2. The Open University (OU) has been delivering courses and qualifications to students in prisons since the 1970s. Since 1972, there have been 16,000 OU prisoner students and in the last year alone almost 1,800 people in approximately 150 prisons and secure units across all security categories in the UK have studied with the OU.

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