Unemployment ‘free-for-all’

Unemployment ‘free-for-all’

Leaked Skills Funding Agency email reveals more late policy changes, but will colleges refund the fees?

Colleges will for the first time be able to claim full funding for unemployed learners not on a state benefit, following a policy update by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA). Leaked email correspondence between SFA staff confirms the changes in late August 2011.

The following statement was sent out to SFA staff: “Colleges and training organisations have the discretion to fully fund individuals who are unemployed and need skills training to help them enter work.

“It is recognised that this discretion is mainly for those in direct receipt of a state benefit, but could also apply to other individuals who are unemployed and need skills training to help them enter work.” It later adds: “Unemployed status and the need for skills training to help them enter work would be confirmed by the individual in theform of a self-declaration to the college or training organisation.”

When FE Week contacted the SFA they confirmed that the changes have been communicated to the Association of Colleges and Association of Employment and Learning Providers, stating: “Following discussion with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the position was clarified with regard to provider discretion to fully fund skills training to unemployed individuals”

It just seems wrong that we’re taking from the treasury and taking from learners as well.”

Adrian Cottrell, Director of Finance and Corporate Services at Canterbury College, said: “It’s good news for learners, but it’s very late in the day to make such profound changes.

“A lot of colleges will find that they’ve already filled courses and that the change comes a bit too late for them.”

Toni Pearce, Vice President for Further Education (FE) in the NUS, added: “It is welcome that the SFA has finally seen sense and done the right thing”

The timing of the policy change means many eligible learners will have already paid a tuition fee. A spokesperson from the SFA said:

“The decision to collect or waive fees for unemployed people looking for work is at the discretion of the college or training organisation.”

A spokesperson from the AoC said: “As autonomous bodies it is up to our member colleges individually to determine their fees policy – this applies to the refunds issue too.”

Mr Cottrell said Canterbury College would be looking to refund learners, adding: “It just seems wrong that we’re taking from the treasury and taking from learners as well.”

“Otherwise you might get a situation where we don’t charge learners going forward, now that we’ve got the concession, and end up retaining fees from learners who enrolled before the concession was granted – and we can’t have that situation.”

Miss Pearce said it would be unfair if some learners didn’t have their tuition fees returned to them.

“Those learners who have already paid out of their own pocket for the opportunity to learn, having been told the Government would not fund them, will now not be eligible for a refund is a clear injustice and needs a rethink,” she said.