Further education changes: minister urged to reconsider

Student in library Campaigners say charging older students full fees for further education will deter those on low incomes

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Ministers are being asked to reconsider plans for older students to fund their own A-level and equivalent courses.

The government currently pays half the fees of further education students aged over 24, but from next year it wants them to take loans to pay the full cost.

Campaigners say the government's own impact assessment shows the policy will lead to 100,000 fewer places.

The government says the loans will help more older people to study.

In a joint letter, leaders of education and student unions have urged the further education minister, John Hayes, to reconsider the policy.

The letter draws on a paragraph in the government's own impact assessment, published this month, which said "around 55% of the learners who would have been supported... would go ahead with learning under such a system of loans."

In the letter the unions calculate that this meant "45% fewer 24+ learners in the system when this policy is implemented. This will amount to a loss of more than 100,000 student places."

A government spokeswoman said that this calculation did not account for the impact of the money from the repayment of student loans which would in fact allow "an extra 204,000 new learners each year" to be supported.

However, the leaders of the University and College Union (UCU), Unison and the National Union of Students (NUS) claimed the plan would hit women, older students and those on low incomes disproportionately hard.

They wrote: "Quite simply, this will result in course closures, job losses and vastly diminished opportunities for adults who need a second chance in education."

'Higher wages'

The impact assessment by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills explained: "It is necessary to reassess the balance of who contributes to the costs of further education.

Start Quote

Ministers are slamming the door in the faces of adults who want to return to learning and gain basic skills”

End Quote Toni Pearce NUS vice-president

"To the extent that individuals or their employers benefit... in the form of higher wages or increased profits... then we should look to reassess the contribution which they make, compared to the level of subsidy."

The unions also said the policy of extending student loans to further education has not been properly thought through because of the varying costs of the courses.

Their letter said: "The sector is not ready for this policy, nor can it absorb such a huge cut in numbers."

The courses affected by the changes would be A-levels, BTecs and some apprenticeships.

Staff and students lobbied their MPs on Friday as part of a national day of action against the plans.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of UCU, said: "The minister urgently needs to clarify just how damaging these controversial plans will be.

"At a time of record levels of unemployment it is simply not acceptable to slash opportunity for 100,000 people."

NUS vice-president Toni Pearce said: "Ministers are slamming the door in the faces of adults who want to return to learning and gain basic skills."

Unison's head of education, Jon Richards, said: "The fear is that the most likely people to go will be those from low income backgrounds, making the plans deeply unfair."

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