It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a year since Lord Sainsbury’s independent panel on Technical Education reported the findings of their inquiry and kick-started what the government are now calling “the most ambitious post-16 education reforms since the introduction of A Levels 70 years ago.”

Central to Sainsbury’s reforms, and subsequent commitment from government including the 2017 Spring Budget, is to ‘level the playing field’ between an established and well-respected academic route through post 16 education, and a technical training route for ‘other people’s children.’

Part of this divide has been that for a long time, the State has significantly financially incentivised full time residential higher education; tuition fee loans and maintenance loans for living costs have been provided and the information on accessing those is relatively easy to come by. There’s even a handy government calculator

Post-recession, interest in forms of education and training that were ‘vocational’ and ‘work based’ grew.

However at the same time, public funding for those kinds of courses was cut.

 

But, in 2013, tuition fee loans were introduced in to the further education sector. Now from 19 years-old upwards, an Advanced Learner Loan will cover your tuition costs and you’ll repay under the same terms as HE student loans; 9% of your income over £21,000 a year and nothing until you earn that amount.

This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

Yet, the State provides additional loans to help HE students meet some of their living costs while studying.

There was still an unfairness in the system. Quitting your full time job and doing a full time level 4 in a technical subject somewhere across the country would still not be a viable option unless you were well off enough to afford all of your living costs yourself.

So, redressing the balance between academic and technical student finance support even more, then Skills Minister, Nick Boles MP, launched a consultation 12 months ago on the introduction of further education maintenance loans.

One year later, and we have now heard that government intends to go ahead with its proposals and introduce maintenance loans for higher technical students to “create real parity with the academic route”. Maintenance loans will be made available to support students on courses at levels 4-6 at National Colleges and Institutes of Technology.

Providing extra support to stimulate demand for higher level technical training is absolutely welcome. But the question has to be asked – what about all of the higher technical students of the future, on a Sainsbury approved technical training route, but not studying at a National College or Institute of Technology? Is this levelling the playing field, or is this just another ball-game of winners and losers?

In our response to the original consultation of maintenance loans, Learning and Work Institute opposed restricting access to maintenance loans for students in National Colleges and Institutes of Technology. We believe it would be wrong for the State to intervene in the supply market in such a way that doesn’t have anything to do with quality.

The government would not suddenly restrict student loans to students at Russell Group universities.

Instead, there should be a universal offer of maintenance loans for higher technical education students. Just like there is for university students.

This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

We look forward to when more detail will be published following the Budget on Wednesday.