NIACE response to support package for loans in FE

12 July 2012

NIACE welcomes the announcement of a package of support measures to address some of the concerns about the introduction of advanced learning loans for adults aged 24 and over in further education from next year. These support measures were announced alongside the introduction of regulations for the loans by John Hayes MP, the Minister for Skills, FE and Lifelong Learning, on 12 July. 

Since the announcement of the Advanced Learning Loans policy last year, NIACE has consistently asked for more research and analysis to be done to ensure adults most in need of education are not put off by loans. Following the publication of the Government’s impact assessments in May, NIACE suggested a number of actions that should be taken.

NIACE proposed that Government should commit itself to writing-off the FE loan debt of those students who progress to higher education.

Government has responded with an announcement that the Student Loan Company would write-off any amounts outstanding on an Access Course loan once students had completed their subsequent higher education course.

NIACE urged the Government to consider whether it might plan for the introduction of bursaries should the need arise.

Government has responded with plans for a £50 million bursary fund over two years, disbursed by colleges and training organisations to vulnerable learners such as those with learning difficulties or disabilities, adults with children in care, and ex-military personnel. The level of the bursary fund will be kept under review.

NIACE proposed to Government and the Skills Funding Agency that the National Careers Service should introduce a ‘Skills Healthcheck’ or ‘Career Review’ for adults in mid-life – especially as the Government’s own impact assessment showed that adults aged 40 and above are less likely to respond positively to the idea of taking out a loan.

Government has responded with an announcement to introduce additional information, advice and guidance for adults who are uncertain about loans, provided by the National Careers Service.

NIACE warned that, “A number of subject areas may become at risk since a fall in adult demand can affect the viability of provision for the 16 -24 age group. Such a problem may be felt most acutely in capital-intensive courses (such as construction and engineering) and there may also be disproportionate effects in particular labour markets (for example social care and childcare).”

Government has responded that, “We will work with the Further Education sector to encourage more learners to consider courses in STEM and growth industries, so that we continue to drive sustainable growth alongside social mobility.”

David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, said:

“NIACE is relieved that Ministers and officials now recognise, publicly, that the loans policy involves real risks. This is new territory for further education which creates uncertainty and it is being introduced at a time of unprecedented economic turbulence. We therefore congratulate the Government for listening to representations in parliament and from across the sector. The Minister listened carefully to our concerns and discussed possible solutions with us. From that the Government has come up with a welcome range of mitigating actions and NIACE will work closely with Government to ensure that any unexpected and unfair outcomes are minimised.”

“We will continue to monitor how this works with the hope that our remaining concerns do not materialise. Where they do, I am confident that the Minister will want to discuss further actions to ensure that this policy is a fair one in practice. We need to do everything we can to make sure that learners do not miss out on the opportunity to participate in learning and benefit from it.”