Union blasts FE loans

The NUS has branded FE loans a “dangerous policy” and raised a number of questions over the new system ahead of its introduction in August.

Its vice president and spokesperson on FE, Toni Pearce, said the new funding system could hit learner numbers.

Ahead of an anti-loans day next month in which the NUS is urging people to write to their MPs on the issue, she warned of a “major impact on apprenticeship uptake,” unease over FE loans among mature students and claimed the new system could affect Muslim learners.

“We think this is a dangerous policy and will have a major impact on apprenticeship uptake,” said Ms Pearce.

“We feel in this instance it is apprentices who are going to get the worst deal as those apprentices over 24 years will be taking out a loan of up to several thousand pounds to effectively work.”

She added: “We are hearing mature students don’t want to take out loans — these are huge amounts of money.

“If I was in their shoes I would be really concerned about the financial implications — it will really difficult for mature students to access further education.”

She said there was no option to take out a loan under Sharia Law, creating a “huge problem of social integration by limiting the number of Muslims getting into further and higher education”.

However, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) defended the new loans system saying market research showed their “terms and conditions … are positively received”.

The government currently pays 50 per cent of tuition fees for most further education students aged 25 and over who want to study at level 3 (or above) but from this year anyone aged 24 or over will no longer be entitled to this financial contribution.

They will have to pay the full cost – with learners becoming eligible for a loan for 100 per cent of the tuition.

Shadow FE Minister Gordon Marsden has been critical of the fact new system has not been advertised nationally. And, echoing his concerns, Ms Pearce said colleges were in the dark about loans.

“It’s really dangerous to go so blindly into something now without anyone knowing about it,” she said.

The NUS’s anti loans event next month is called the FE Fees Constituency Lobby Day. It takes place on February 8.

“We were successful last year in getting the government to write-off FE loans for people who then go on to study in higher education,” added Ms Pearce.

“The government also pledged an extra £50m to student financial support adults in further education so we are now asking people to again lobby their local constituency politician. This is all part of the same campaign,” said Ms Pearce.

A BIS spokesperson said: “Students, including apprentices will not be expected to pay anything up front for their course and will only repay their loan once they have completed the course and are earning above £21,000. Market research shows that the terms and conditions of 24+ Advanced Learning Loans are positively received. It also shows that the quality of the course and the future benefits to the individual are the most important factors when deciding to invest in training.”