The UK is narrowly divided over whether prisoners should be able to take out student loans to pay for degrees, according to an exclusive poll by LearnBonds
Just under 42% of British people either strongly agree or somewhat agree that “long-term prisoners should be allowed to take out student loans during their sentences to pay for degree courses”. However, it also found that 38.5% of the public either strongly disagree or somewhat disagree with the right of inmates to take out these loans. Just under 20% were undecided.
The poll follows a recent report which said improving inmates’ education would cut reoffending rates and reduce overall prison costs, according to the Open University and thinktank the Higher Education Policy Institute.
Prisoners need to borrow just over £18,000 for tuition fees to complete an Open University degree.
Currently, only prisoners within six years of release are eligible for student loans to cover tuition fees in England and Wales. About 2,000 prisoners are currently taking higher-education courses, mostly part-time, distance-learning degrees from the Open University.
The study estimates scrapping the six-year rule would add another 200 prisoners per year to student numbers – at a cost of £2.3 million. But the report adds that the move “could also save between £3 million and £6 million as a result of reduced reoffending rates”.
Higher Education Policy Institute director Nick Hillman said rules that mean only prisoners within six years of release are eligible for student loans “simply beggars belief”.
Londoners are most in favour of the drive for prisoner education with just over 65% of those in the capital backing the move, according to our survey. The next most supportive region was the North West, where just over 41% of the public are behind the initiative.
LearnBonds news editor said: “This is a vital, but often neglected, area of the prison service. Education and skills give inmates the best chance of turning their lives around. But the public spilt over funding degrees highlights the age-old split over whether prison is primarily there to punish or to reform.”
The survey was commissioned by LearnBonds and interviewed a representative sample of 2,000 adults across the country between 26 and 27 of October.