FE loans equality impact assessment delayed

The final impact assessment and equality impact assessment for the proposed FE loans system has been delayed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

The reports, which were due to be published in April according to ‘A Guide to Further Education Loans for colleges and training organisations’, will not now be published until the end of May.

A BIS spokesperson told FE Week: “The impact assessment and the equality impact assessment will be published at the same time. We expect to publish both documents by the end of May 2012, in advance of regulations for the introduction of Level 3 and 4 post-24 loans being laid before Parliament. The publication is subject to the IA receiving the necessary approvals, including from the Regulatory Approvals Committee (RPC).”

The impact assessment will consider the effects of the new system in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 academic year.

The modelling which has thus far been done on it has been inadequate.”

The equality impact assessment, meanwhile, will look at how learners aged 25 and above will be affected by loans when studying courses at level 3 and 4 in “the foreseeable future”.

Gordon Marsden MP, shadow minister for skills, FE and regional growth, has questioned how detailed both assessments will be.

Speaking to FE Week, Mr Marsden said: “Will it be a generalised impact assessment or will it be a proper, detailed equality impact assessment that looks at the particular issues at particular groups of people?

“Women in their thirties and forties, people from ethnic minorities and people with disabilities because these are, as I say, details of people most vulnerable to being put off in a situation where the optimum amount, a very generous amount of support, is suddenly lifted away and replaced by these FE loans.”

Mr Marsden held an event at The Manchester College earlier this month to ask students, senior college leaders and representatives from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), the University and College Union (UCU) and the Association of Colleges (AoC) how they felt about the proposed system.

It is crazy to hike up the cost of college courses during a time of record unemployment.”

Graham Beards, interim director of finance and estates at Oldham College, said the impact assessment and equality impact assessment would be “a case of wait and see”.

Mr Beards said: “We are hoping the report will answer questions such as whether FE learners will be allowed to access maintenance loans as for higher education? And what does the government predict the impact to be on the total number of 25+ learners?”

The shadow skills minister says there are increasing concerns in the sector about both the principle of a loans system and the timescale of implementation.

Mr Marsden said: “The modelling which has thus far been done on it has been inadequate. If you think about other major changes that are introduced, they’re often introduced over a two or three year period and with pilots. This is something that they are suggesting as a big bang principle.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said the government’s proposals had been “steamrollered through” without sufficient consultation with the sector.

“It is crazy to hike up the cost of college courses during a time of record unemployment. We should be making access to education easier for determined adults who want to get off the dole queue and on in life,” she said.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has formed a campaigning coalition with UCU, the Institute for Learning (IfL), the 157 Group and Gordon Marsden MP against the introduction of the FE loans system.

Toni Pearce, vice president (FE) for the NUS, says they hope to launch the campaign in the next couple of weeks with a student survey and briefings for MPs.

“One of the biggest tasks with the campaign is informing the public, students, MPs and even the FE sector to educate them about what is happening, because its such a complicated issue,” she said.

“I hope that those people who engage with the campaign will lobby their MPs, because once the issue is explained, it’s almost entirely unjustifiable.”