Derek has written to Further Education & Skills Minister John Hayes to warn about the impact on current and potential mature college students of the Government's unfair plans to reduce fees support with expensive loans.
This follows a meeting earlier this month Derek held with Riverside College Principal Michael Sheehan at which Mr Sheehan outlined his concerns about plans by ministers to withdraw the current 50% grant funding support to Level 3+ students aged 24 and over, and instead to get learners to pay for the full costs of their course from 2013/14. This will have an adverse impact on the 350 students currently studying courses at Level 3 and above at Riverside, of which two-thirds are female, and almost 20,000 adult learners in Further Education across the North West, who will now have to take out a loan to fund their course.
The changes to funding and remission guidelines will mean that for the next academic year, students over 24 will no longer quality for fee remission on First Full Level 2 courses and adults over 25 will no longer qualify for fee remission on First Full Level 3 courses, unless they are unemployed and claiming active benefits or on a means-tested benefit.
This is to say nothing of the potential knock-on effect this will have in terms of deterring potential future students from studying at college for fear of accumulating debt. According to research from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) - the department which itself has proposed and will be introducing the changes - only 11% of current learners would 'definitely' enrol at college under the proposed loan scheme, whilst the initial impact assessment of the changes actually budgets for a 20% decrease in student numbers.
Following his meeting with Mr Sheehan, Derek said:
"I have heard first-hand from Mr Sheehan about his concerns and those of his staff that these proposals will deter potential students from otherwise taking up the opportunities to undertake Further Education which are so valuable for improving their skills for the jobs market, and contributing to the wider social and economic benefits in their community and beyond.
Adult college learners are more likely to have part-time jobs and family responsibilities that make them less likely to study in the first place, and more debt averse when they do, especially as they are aspiring to university which means they would be looking at accumulating debt over a five year period. These measures disproportionately affect female students, given the greater likelihood of their child care and caring commitments.
Yet these plans by the Government make a mockery of ministers' claims to widen participation in lifelong learning, putting off hundreds of potential students in Halton and thousands across the North West from in many cases taking up a second chance in education. This is a misguided attack on people trying to develop their skills, like taking on an apprenticeship, enhancing their job opportunities and carving out a career path. We need a more skilled workforce to improve peoples' life chances and for them and their families to get on, and return the economy to sustained growth.
There has been a potent lack of consultation with the Further Education sector, the Student Loans Company which would administer the new arrangements, and the wider public, and I urge ministers to think again and withdraw this unfair policy, and I have written to the Minister saying precisely that."