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£5m spent on courses for prisoners

More than £5 million of taxpayers' money has been spent on Open University courses for prisoners over the past six years.

Some £5,282,000 was spent between 2005 and 2010 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, according to official figures.

And the Government disclosed that three foreign national prisoners were awarded charity funding for university courses in 2010-11.

Conservative Priti Patel, MP for Witham, obtained the figures in a written parliamentary answer from business minister John Hayes. She was told earlier this month that 1,609 prisoners in England and Wales had registered to start Open University (OU) course modules this financial year.

Costs for degree courses are met by both the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the OU Access to Learning Fund.

Between 2005 and 2010, BIS spent £3,738,000 - steadily rising from £538,000 in 2005-06 to £1.19 million in 2009-10. The OU spent a total of £1,544,000 - from £46,000 in 2005-06 to £445,000 in 2009-10.

Only 59% (1,293) of studying inmates in prisons in England passed their OU course last year.

Mr Hayes said data on the nationality of current prisoner students was incomplete but added: "However in the financial year 2010-11, the Prisoners' Education Trust has approved funding for three foreign national prisoners, and refused one.

"Foreign nationals are only funded if they make an exceptionally strong application, taking into account their previous employment history and their commitment to self-reform and avoidance of further crime. They must also have sufficient time to complete the course inside custody."

Prisoners in England are undertaking an array of OU course modules that range from reading classical Latin, maths for science and advanced French to the more obscure death and dying.

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