The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) has published a press release this week which says that within current budgets, colleges will be able to offer free, fully-subsidised training to learners that under existing policies would have been charged a fee.

Policy changes announced in November 2010 stated that only learners on particular ‘active’ benefits, such as Job Seekers Allowance, would be eligible for fully-subsidised courses.

However the BIS statement this week reads: “FE providers will also be given some local discretion to provide fully subsidised courses for people on a wider range of benefits – provided the training is to help them enter employment”.

Skills Minister John Hayes said: “Today’s announcement marks a new phase in this process. It is good news for people who are currently reliant on benefits but want to get into work, and good news for employers looking for a local supply of the right skills to help their businesses to grow.”

Geoff Russell, Chief Executive of the Skills Funding Agency said: “This decision is another example of putting freedom and flexibility into practice. We will now make this explicit in our funding rules.”

Martin Doel, Association of Colleges Chief Executive, said: “We are grateful that Government has listened to AoC and member concerns relating to this issue, and for the trust they have placed in Colleges in granting them the freedoms to allow students on inactive benefits to progress into employment. We await further clarification in the guidance notes due to be published by the Department.

“We are pleased that this announcement recognises the pivotal role Colleges have in economic growth and jobs – the distinction being made between funding courses for individuals receiving inactive and active benefits was threatening to compromise their ability to perform that role. College courses are an important route into employment for many people on benefits, irrespective of the type of benefit.”

FE Week will be contacting colleges to get their reaction to this, the second late change to fees policy for the 2011/12 academic year.

Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below, and read our FE Week expert’s view by clicking here.