Employers looking for loans loophole, claims TUC

Bosses are looking for a loophole in the new FE loans system to make apprentices pay part of their employers’ share of training costs, a TUC official has claimed.

With just a month until applications for 24+ Advanced Learning Loans open, Tom Wilson, director of TUC learning and skills branch Unionlearn, warned that apprentices were in for “the worst of all possible worlds”.

“Some employers are talking about making their employees take out an FE loan to offload the cost the employer previously carried, even for apprentices,” he said at a seminar during the Education Innovation conference in Manchester.

“So if we have a system where apprentices are being made to take out a loan for their own apprenticeship training that was previously paid for by their employer, that seems to me the worst of all possible worlds.”

Also on the seminar panel was National Apprenticeship Service chief executive David Way, who said employers should pay towards apprentice training under the new system.

“The employer is expected to make a contribution — it’s a partnership between the employer and the individual, as opposed to the employer and the government.”

The panel, chaired by FE Week editor Nick Linford, was completed by National Institute of Adult Continuing Education chief executive David Hughes, Association of Teachers and Lecturers education policy adviser Jill Stokoe and Association of Colleges chief executive Martin Doel.

Mr Doel said: “From my previous life in the armed forces, I find it a bit perverse that a soldier who would be trained to use military equipment … would be paying for his own training on that equipment as a 25-plus apprentice. There seem to be manifest illogicalities around this.”

The government currently pays 50 per cent of tuition fees for most FE students aged 25 and over who want to study at level three (or above), but from August anyone aged 24 or more will lose this financial contribution.The National Union of Students has been among the system’s fiercest critics. Its vice president and spokesperson on FE, Toni Pearce, said: “It is apprentices who will get the worst deal . . . those aged over 24 will be taking out a loan of up to several thousand pounds to effectively work.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “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.”