Degree-level funding for prisoners in three-year pilot scheme

27 Mar 2017

Prisoners' Education Trust, in partnership with the Open University, has received funding to offer free level 1 courses to 150 prisoners a year as part of a three-year pilot scheme to help prisoners access Higher Education, a provision which is proven to improve employment prospects and reduce reoffending. The project, which will run in England and Wales from September, is supported by a grant of £600,000 from the Garfield Weston Foundation and £300,000 from the Open University Students Educational Trust charity.

External Engagement Director at The Open University, Steve Hill, said: “The OU has led in delivering education within prisons for nearly fifty years – we know that education has the power to transform lives and prisoners who study are significantly less likely to reoffend.  The cost of current levels of reoffending by former prisoners is up to an estimated £13billion a year, something society can ill afford. This scheme will help prisoner learners gain confidence, improve their prospects on release and change the direction their lives have gone in. The Open University really can be truly life changing for those who study in prison.”  

The Garfield Weston Foundation is a family-founded charitable grant-making foundation which supports over 1,800 charities each year, donating over £58 million in the most recent financial year.  Philippa Charles, Director of the Foundation, said “The Trustees of the Garfield Weston Foundation are delighted to support this project, which will enable men and women in prison to develop their personal confidence, capabilities and improve their chances of securing employment on release. We believe in the power of education in transforming lives, and look forward to seeing the transformative effect that improved access to higher education brings to individuals in prison across England and Wales.”

Scheme aims to halt decline in prisoners taking up study

In 2016, The Coates Review – which described education in prison as “one of the pillars of effective rehabilitation” - recognised that the government’s decision in 2012 to withdraw funding for prisoners to study level 1 modules, had resulted in a large drop in student numbers throughout the prison population.  The OU saw a 42% drop in learner numbers – from 1,787 in 2012 to 1,079 in 2015.

The new scholarship scheme aims to halt the decline in prisoners taking up study, with the OU and PET giving support to students throughout their chosen module of study, including advice on how to progress their studies and seek further funding by way of a student loan.  The findings and outcomes from the scheme will inform policy makers and, it is hoped, encourage ministers to review policies to maximise the numbers of prisoners who gain education and training qualifications when in custody.

Enabling prisoners to change their lives

Rod Clark, Chief Executive, Prisoners’ Education Trust, said: “PET is delighted to be part of this exciting project to support more prisoner learners take their first steps in university-level study. As Dame Sally Coates said in her review of prison education: “Education should be aspirational. It must offer a learning journey that is truly transformational”. This includes giving people in prison the chance to pursue degrees inside. With the right support, people who may enter prison struggling to read and write can leave with qualifications and aspirations that change their lives and help them make valuable contributions to society upon release.”

Ex-offender James Harris knows first-hand how life changing education can be.  When he was first jailed at the age of 23, he decided to turn his life around and dedicated his time to learning new skills.  He began studying for an Open University degree and is continuing this on his release, determined to complete his qualification.  Having won Wales’ Adult Learner of the Year Award in 2016, he has just begun a new career as a Wellbeing Consultant and said: “My studies allowed me to broaden my horizons and as a result, my outlook on life and my priorities have completely changed.”


Further information

  • Currently over 1,000 offenders are studying with the OU
  • OU student numbers within prisons have rapidly decreased from 1,787 in 2012 to 1,079 in 2015
  • The OU works with 150 secure establishments across the UK and Ireland
  • In 2014/15 the OU awarded three postgraduate Masters degrees, 85 undergraduate degrees and over 100 Higher Education Certificates and Diplomas to students in prison.
  • A report by MoJ statisticians found that prisoners supported to study by PET were over a quarter less likely to re-offend than a matched control group.  A PET survey of prisoners also found that 70% of respondents felt education would increase their employability, and 65% wanted to continue learning after release.

Media contacts:

Open University – Kath Middleditch - / 01908 655026

PET – Katy Oglethorpe – / 020 3752 5676 / 0791 2161 536

About the OU

The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 1.8 million students and has almost 170,000 current students, including more than 15,000 overseas.

Over 70% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and four out of five FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.

In the latest assessment exercise for university research (Research Excellence Framework, 2014), nearly three quarters (72%) of The Open University’s research was assessed as 4 or 3 star – the highest ratings available – and awarded to research that is world-leading or internationally excellent.  The Open University is unique among UK universities having both an access mission and demonstrating research excellence.

The OU has a 42 year partnership with the BBC and has moved from late-night lectures in the 1970s to co-producing around 35 prime-time series a year such as The Hunt, Exodus: Our Journey to Europe, Full Steam Ahead and The Big C and Me on TV, and Inside Science, The Bottom Line and Thinking Allowed on Radio4.  Our OU viewing and listening events attracted 250m people in the UK last year which prompted more than 780k visits to the OU’s free learning website, OpenLearn:

Regarded as the UK’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units, as well as games, videos and academic articles and has reached audiences of up to 9.8 million across a variety of online formats including OpenLearn, YouTube and iTunes U.

For further information please visit:

About PET

Prisoners’ Education Trust provides advice and funding for over 2,200 people per year for distance learning courses in subjects and levels not generally available in prisons. PET also carries out research, informed by prisoner learners, to improve prison education policies.

Further interviews and comment available on request.

About the Garfield Weston Foundation

The Garfield Weston Foundation is a family-founded charitable grant-making foundation which supports a wide range of causes across the UK, donating over £58million in the most recent financial year. It was established in 1958 by Willard Garfield Weston and since then has donated over £900million, becoming one of the largest and most respected charitable institutions in the UK. The trustees are descendants of the founder and the Weston Family takes a highly active and hands-on approach. In general, over 1,800 charities of all sizes across the UK benefit each year and the significant majority of grants are for small projects and organisations across the UK’s local communities.

For further information: