FEMALE students are being disproportionately hit by a failure to offer sufficient financial support to those studying part-time.

There are currently 236,000 part time students in universities and colleges across Scotland with women accounting for 61 per cent of them.

However, part-time students do not have access to the range of loans and bursaries available to full-time students making the cost of studying much harder to meet.

Susan Stewart, director of the Open University in Scotland, has called for the issue to be addressed in a forthcoming Scottish Government consultation.

Ms Stewart said a recent independent review of financial support, chaired by Virgin Money chief executive Jayne-Anne Gadhia, had an opportunity to address the issue, but had “excluded” part-time students from its recommendations.

art-time study also includes higher proportions of disabled, low income and students from disadvantaged backgrounds compared to full-time study.

Writing in The Herald, Ms Stewart said: “These 236,000 part-time students, whether at college or university, aren’t currently eligible for financial support.

“The review was a chance to fix that. After all, it cited fairness, parity and clarity as its guiding principles.

“Imagine my surprise when it chose to exclude part-time students from its recommendations. Despite its central recommendation that all students should be entitled to a minimum income of £8,100 a year, what the review really meant was some students.”

Ms Stewart said Open University students often talked about an “earnings trap” where, having left school and started work, they found the cost of rent and childcare too much to pursue part-time study.

She added: “Putting part-time students at a disadvantage based on the way they need to study doesn’t make sense and is not fair.

“It’s also an economic necessity. Demographic trends show us that, in a world of rapidly changing technology, we don’t have enough young people to fill the jobs we know are coming soon.

“Scotland is a small country and we need to take advantage of the talents of all of our people which means they need to be able to re-skill and upskill in order to change jobs and careers – for most people already in work, that means studying part-time.”

The call for parity for part-time students was backed by academics and student representatives.

Mary Senior, Scotland Official for the University and College Union, said changes to student funding were a step in the right direction, but more needed to be done.

She said: “There needs to be greater flexibility with the timing of loan and bursary payments to address hardship issues students can face over the summer, and we need to ensure vital financial assistance is extended to part-time students.”

Liam McCabe, president of student body NUS Scotland, welcomed the Scottish Government’s intention to look at the issue of part-time students.

He added: “We hope to see any future recommendations being probably resourced, and aimed at creating greater equity in the system.”

Part-time higher education students, regardless of income or background, are not currently eligible for student maintenance support in Scotland.

Students earning less than £25,000 may be eligible for the part-time fee grant, which waives tuition fees.