Jeremy Corbyn has rightly talked up the need for more lifelong learning, all candidates have talked of the need to help workers up skill in order to address Britain's productivity problem and basic Labour instincts that saw us introduce the Open University should mean we're always trying to help people access higher education at whatever stage of their life.
So my idea to extend student maintenance loans to part-time students should appeal as a policy idea that ticks all the boxes above.
Currently part-time students can't access any maintenance support, on the basis that they are working so they don't need any income but this of course ignores the fact that many people who might want to access a part-time degree can't afford to give up their full-time hours in order to do so.
Part-time student numbers have already dropped dramatically since tuition fees were raised. In response many universities and colleges have dropped their fees slightly but extending maintenance loans to part-time students could help reverse the decline and indeed increase numbers to new highs.
Currently a full time undergraduate staying at home can take out £4,565 a year. Giving part-time students even just half of this (£2,283) would be a big boost to incomes that could be the difference between reducing hours and enrolling or not being able to.
If every part-time (around 605,000 on current numbers) claimed the £2,283 it would cost £1.38bn a year. Whilst it's unlikely all 605,000 would opt to claim it's also likely that the numbers enrolling (as I've explained) would rise so let's work on that assumption. You could fund that through adding £197,142 for each of the 7,000 large companies who will have to pay the Government's new Apprenticeship Levy. Like the proposed Levy employers could claim some of that cost back off the Government in exhange for supporting employees to reduce hours to allow them to undertake part-time study.
Final point: to make this work we should also change the loans regime so that part-time students start paying back after they graduate like full time students. Currently part-time students earning over £21,000 start repaying their loan immediately. Delaying that until after graduation may be another way to help boost numbers enrolling and would be important to make the proposal above work too.