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Concessions announced over adult learner loans

Ministers have announced some concessions over plans to make older students fund their own further education courses.

Currently the government pays half the fees of further education students aged over 24. From 2013 it wants them to take out loans to pay the full cost.

Campaigners highlighted government analysis showing the move would lead to 100,000 fewer learners.

There will now be a £50m scheme to cover some students' costs.

Some £20m of the bursary scheme will fund particularly vulnerable learners – those with learning difficulties, disabilities and parents needing childcare.

The rest, £30m diverted from learner support budgets, will be given to colleges to distribute.

'Finally listening'

The package also includes a pledge that those who take out loans to fund access courses and then go on to higher education can ask for their loans to be written off.

The concessions follow a concerted campaign by students, academics, lecturers and college principals highlighting what they said were "fundamental flaws" in a policy that risksed putting adults off studying, training and re-skilling.

National Union of Students vice-president Toni Pearce said the government should be commended for "finally listening to the strength of feeling out there".

She added: "I'm afraid that the central issue still remains that we should be making further education as accessible as possible, rather than removing the public contribution towards teaching costs for so many adults who wish to re-skill."

Sally Hunt, general secretary of academics' union, the UCU, also welcomed the move but with reservations.

'Financial barriers'

"We remain concerned that despite these new measures thousands of learners will still miss out on a second chance at education."

Announcing the partial climbdown, Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "We recognise that some people face financial barriers which is why we are introducing this fund and extra support.

"There are many people who discover an appetite and aptitude for study later on in life and want to pursue a university degree. These measures will support access to higher education students who will not incur the cost of two loans to achieve a degree."

Professor Patrick McGhee, chairman of the university think-tank million+ and vice-chancellor of the University of East London, said: "The importance that ministers have attached to access to higher education qualifications is clearly welcome.

"But it would have been better if funding for all Level 3 qualifications had been continued, given the impacts these changes are likely to have on mature students' participation in FE courses."

Association of Teachers and Lecturers post-16 representative Norman Crowther said he was pleased the government had listened to common sense.

He added: "We fear the introduction of loans will signal the end of education for adults in England's further education colleges and mean thousands of adults will miss out on retraining and skilled jobs."

Shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden said: "While I welcome these concessions, real fears remain over the impact FE loans could have on the sector.

"Ministers' own research found that just one in 10 learners would still definitely continue their courses if loans were introduced and BIS's impact assessment predicting up to 150,000 could drop out of adult learning altogether – and the way these changes are being brought in without any real parliamentary scrutiny."

This article was taken from www.bbc.co.uk