Monday, 28 May 2012

Further education loans are a gamble too far for adult learners

Hot on the heels of trebling of tuition fees and the scrapping of Education Maintenance Allowances from 2013/14, the government is now planning to withdraw the support it currently offers for people aged 24 and over taking A-level equivalent courses and above (Level 3 and higher which includes apprenticeships). Last year, more than 4200 such students were in colleges in South Yorkshire.
Instead, it is planning a system of loans for Further Education students. As the Government is cutting its support - currently 50% of the cost, course fees are expected to rise dramatically to around £4000 a year. When students complete their courses and start to earn £21,000 or more, they will pay back the loans.
Isn't there something bizarre about expecting individual apprentices over 24, rather than their employers, to take on loan responsibilities when they are already taking a salary cut because of their training status?
The Government has no real evidence to suggest that the majority of people will feel either able or willing to take on such loans. Far from it; it has plenty to suggest they will not, especially given the gloomy economic climate. People who didn’t enjoy or do well at school often have to be supported and incentivised towards adult learning. Even the Government believes that a minimum of 20% of existing adult learners will simply fall by the wayside as a result of these changes.
The coalition also seems determined to introduce fees for access-to-HE courses, which are designed for those who missed out on university the first time; 70% of students are female.
It’s another attack on aspiration. It will particularly hit women.
When economic growth has stalled and public confidence is at an all-time low, introducing a ‘big bang’ loans system with potential learners and re-skillers - worried about debt, family circumstances and unemployment - seems particularly misconceived.