Universities Minister Jo Johnson visits Birkbeck

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson was welcomed to Birkbeck this week by the Master, David Latchman, and spent time talking to students about their College experiences.

Making his first visit to Birkbeck, Jo Johnson MP was keen to speak to students about the potential impact of maintenance loans being newly available to part-time undergraduate students. The new loans, which will be available from 2018-19, were announced in November last year as part of the Government’s Spending Review.

The Minister’s visit to Birkbeck also reflects growing government interest in alternative models of higher education provision, such as Birkbeck’s unique three-year, evening taught undergraduate courses, which give students the opportunity to combine study with work and other commitments.

David Latchman said; “We were delighted to welcome the Minister to the College today and to have this opportunity to show him what we do.  We discussed the very welcome recent government announcement of loans for postgraduates, which will come into play from 2016-17, and the introduction of maintenance loans for part-time undergraduate study from 2018. Both of these will be of great benefit to our students. We want to see an increasingly level playing field between full-time and part-time study, and these are encouraging steps.

“We also discussed Equivalent Level Qualifications (ELQ), as we’d like to see further subjects exempted from this ruling.  We were also able to raise concerns about the alarming fall in part time study in England and whether all the measures announced in the Spending Review will be enough to stem this decline. We hope Jo Johnson will take these concerns on board as the White Paper develops.”

Postgraduate student Patricia Whitehorne spoke to the Minister and said afterwards: “He seemed really interested in how we thought the maintenance loans might work, and how much difference they would make to potential part-time students – whether at Birkbeck it would mean a student would choose to do a four-year part-time course, or the three-year full time evening course, for example.

“I think it was very valuable for him to speak to actual students, and for us to help inform him as he makes policy decisions.”

The Master added: “The Minister was very interested in Birkbeck’s unique evening teaching model, and had plenty of questions about our role as a specialist higher education institution in London. He also asked about the ‘typical Birkbeck student’ and I was delighted to be able to tell him there was no such person – our students come from all backgrounds and range in age from 18 to 80-plus.”

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