THE principal of an Oxford college which offers a second chance at higher education has said students are being let down by the Government.

Prof Audrey Mullender, principal at Ruskin College, based in Walton Street, warned the increase in student fees would put off people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

She said: “The first thing we saw from our learners was anger and a feeling that the Government doesn’t understand the position for mature students who already have many demands on them.

“If people are prepared to put themselves through the struggle and strain of studying, particularly in later life, they need all the support they can get.”

Ruskin currently teaches between 200 and 300 mature undergraduates each year on six BA degrees and five Certificates of Higher Education.

A new £5m campus is set to open in Dunstan Road, Headington, in 2012 – the same time as the new fees come in.

Prof Mullender said Ruskin’s fees were likely to be £8,500 per year, less than the cap of £9,000.

She said: “We are planning and building for the future with a state-of-the-art college. We have more and more to offer students, but at the same time we are being let down by the Government and it brings a real uncertainty as to whether people will want to come in the future.

“It’s almost like the Government is pulling the rug from underneath us.”

At the moment bursaries are available for students on the Certificate of Higher Education course at Ruskin, which acts as the first year of a BA degree, meaning students will face a total bill of £17,000 rather than £25,500.

But Prof Mullender said Government funding for this was also under review.

She said: “It’s quite worrying, especially as the message hasn’t been put across very clearly. We do think it will put people off.

“When you are 18 you are making your own choices but when you are 38 or 48 – or even 28 – you may well not only have yourself to think about but have family commitments and mortgages.”

She said there was confusion about the date the fee rises would come in and the fact loans were repaid after students hit a certain wage threshold rather than fees being demanded upfront.

She said: “Adult learners are on quite an isolated and sometimes ad hoc journey back to learning, so what they hear is quite hit and miss.

“If you are on your own, already carrying the weight of family responsibility and you hear fees will be £9,000 a year, that’s all you’ll hear, you’ll switch off even though there may be ways around it.”

She said the college would have wanted to have kept fees lower but the small size of the college, coupled with cuts to higher education funding, made it impossible to educate students on less.