Sarah Harris mentions Sutton Trust research on part-time study in an article for the Daily Mail.
Ministers are being urged to rethink the funding cuts crippling the Open University.
The institution – which has provided a ‘ladder of opportunity’ for millions – is a victim of the changes to tuition fees.
It has been hit by a dramatic fall in part-time students, and education experts say ministers have to give it a subsidy so it can lower its fees.
Tory MP Robert Halfon said: ‘Far from cutting funds, we should be doing everything possible to support the OU financially.’
Conservative peer Lord Willetts, who as universities minister introduced the 2012 tuition fee changes that have caused the crisis, admitted there was a ‘problem’.
He said ‘some level of public funding’ should return for mature students, such as those attending the OU. This issue should be a ‘priority’ for the Government’s current review of post-18 education and funding, he added.
The number of students enrolling with the OU has slumped from 242,000 in 2011/12 to 173,927 in 2016/17 – a fall of 28 per cent.
By some estimates, the OU has lost 600,000 students who might have been expected to start studying in that period if the funding had not changed.
Most of the drop was in England, which is affected by the Government’s fee changes.
The OU has traditionally been the ‘University of the Second Chance’, helping people often later in life and while holding down a job.
Almost 80 per cent of OU students work full or part-time during their studies, and the institution has helped more than 2 million people since it was founded in 1969.
Part-time study in England has been ‘decimated’ by the hike in tuition fees, research from the Sutton Trust found. A report last month revealed that the number of part-time students in England has declined by 51 per cent from 215,900 in 2010 to 105,500 in 2015, with the OU experiencing an even bigger fall of 63 per cent.
Conor Ryan, director of research at the Sutton Trust, said: ‘Part-time study, including the Open University, offer crucial second chances for social mobility.
‘A major reason for (the fall in numbers) has been the big increases in tuition fees, but it also reflects changes in eligibility for second degrees and less support from employers.’
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