Decision on FE maintenance loans put off until November despite strong support

Decision on FE maintenance loans put off until November despite strong support

The government has stalled on making a decision about providing maintenance loans for higher level learners studying technical education in FE, despite strong support for introducing the new funding.

In publishing the outcome of a consultation on the issue today, the Department for Education (DfE) concluded that it would “take time to consider the responses”, and scheduled a full statement of its plans for November.

The DfE said: “We are going to take time to consider the responses to the consultation in light of the report by Lord Sainsbury, which has implications for higher level technical learning and how it should be delivered in the future.

“We will need to consider the value for money case and fiscal position before taking any decision on the case for FE maintenance loans.

“We expect to make a statement in the autumn.”

The consultation, which was launched by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills on March 24 and closed on June 16, 2016, aimed to test whether support for the introduction of maintenance loans in FE was on a par with the level of support available in Higher Education.

It also looked at whether this support should only be made available to 19+ learners studying level 4-6 technical courses at specialist providers, and whether part-time learners should be supported as well.

The DfE’s concluded from the responses that “respondents felt that the introduction of a loans package would help achieve the objective of increasing the numbers learners undertaking technical and professional learning in key sectors that are important to the economy”.

The consultation outcome report said: “When taking the written responses and the strength of feeling in the focus groups, the majority believed that this offer should be made on the basis of the qualification studied rather than the institution where the learning took place.

“Respondents felt that focussing on National Colleges and Institutes of technology would be too narrow and would not deliver significant numbers of new learners.”

It also found that a small majority of respondents thought that the maintenance loans offer should be “flatrate rather than means-tested”.

The feedback suggested this would be “easier to understand and administer, though it was also thought means-testing would give more parity with HE”.

There were just 33 responses to the consultation and two focus groups were held to gather views from providers and interested bodies.

Nearly three quarters of respondents also thought that maintenance loans in FE should be available to part-time learners.

However, “very few respondents” were able to provide data predicting levels of take up of maintenance loans or evidence of the impact that introducing this kind of support might have on learner numbers.