It won’t be easy. It’s at best confusing and contradictory, and at worst – morally deficient.

As part of the government’s further education reform program, they have made the decision to begin charging over 24s for their first Level 3 qualifications (A level equivalents). They soon realised that some people who don’t have these qualifications might not be able to afford to get them. So, rather benevolently, they decided to offer them loans! Except it doesn’t look like they’ve thought through how it might work in practice, and now they’re having a consultation to if out how it will work.

These loans are for anyone aged 24 or over who is on a Level 3 course and doesn’t already have a Level 3 qualification, including apprenticeships and Access to HE courses. That’s because before the age of 24, if you don’t already have a Level 3 qualification, you can get it for free.

The loans are designed to cover the cost of study for up to £4,000. However, unlike in the Higher Education system, there is no limit on what Colleges can charge adults for their qualifications. I’ll repeat that, there is no cap. So even if you get the maximum possible loan, it still might not cover the whole cost of study. If you can pay for part of the course yourself then you’ll be able to get a smaller loan. But if you want to do an apprenticeship then your employer will be expected to make a 50% contribution, so you’ll only get a loan for half the cost. And there are no maintenance loans available.

You can only have access to the loans for two years to complete your course, so if you don’t get the results you need in that time, you’ll have to pay for it yourself.

The loans will be administered by the Student Loans Company, but the consultation tells us they number available will be finite. Unlike in HE, where if you are accepted on to a course you are automatically eligible for a loan, you’ll have to apply for a loan and apply to your course at the same time; and hope you get both.

In their own consultation document, the government tells us that, “the demand for Further Education is relatively price inelastic”. In English, that means you can’t raise the price of FE very much before people stop paying for it. It also tells us that a report commissioned by the Learning and Skills Research Centre in 2006 found that one third of learners would consider taking out a loan to fund their learning. So they already know that two thirds of learners wouldn’t consider using this loan system.

We have the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills trying to impose a flawed HE model in the FE sector where it is even more inappropriate, and it’s
dangerous”

And yet the government have already decided to implement this plan, they’re just consulting on how to do it.

So here we have the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills trying to impose a flawed Higher Education model in the Further Education sector where it is even more inappropriate, and it’s dangerous. The people who will be accessing these loans are the most debt-averse in society (much more so than those who might be put off by the cost of Higher Education), there isn’t even the financial reward that a degree brings on offer, particularly with current unemployment rates. And those who won’t access them are even more vulnerable.

But my biggest issue with this policy of Further Education loans is that it just shouldn’t be necessary. It is a disgrace that we have gotten to a state in our society where those who have the least, are unqualified and have been let down by our education system the first time around; have no opportunity for a second chance.

What is it that changes when a person turns 24 that means they don’t deserve to get a job, to provide for their family or to realize their potential?

Toni Pearce Vice President (FE), NUS, Tweeting as @Toni_Pearce