The Education Funding Agency has announced plans to save £150m by paying 17.5 per cent less for the full-time education of 18-year-olds in comparison with 16 and 17-year-olds.
The current, unweighted, funding rate for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds is £4,000. The new rate for 16 and 17-year-olds is expected to be announced in March, but at the current rate 18-year-olds would be funded at £3,300.
The agency said the Spending Review for 2015-16 meant that savings were required from the 16 to 19 participation budget that year.
It said the cut would come into force for 2014/15, by which time, it argued, most 18-year-olds would not need “as much non-qualification provision within their study programmes” because they will have already benefited from two years of post-16 education.
But it is estimated that the move would affect 100,000 18-year-olds in colleges, plus those in school sixth forms and studying foundation course in universities.
It has angered Association of Colleges chief executive Martin Doel, who has raised the issue with Education Minister David Laws and said: “By definition these are the students who need extra help, not less.”
Nevertheless, it would, it is believed, save the agency — and the Department for Education (DfE) — around £150m.
A letter from the agency outlining the cut said: “Because we are operating within a fixed budget, we will confirm the national funding rate per student for 2014/15, and the flat rates for disadvantaged students without GCSE Grade C or above in English or maths in March, when we know the total student numbers we need to fund in 2014/15. In order to realise the required savings for 2015-16, it is necessary to make a start in 2014/15.
“Ministers have decided to make the savings required in 2014/15 by reducing the participation requirements for full-time 18-year-olds, as defined by their age at the start of the academic year.
“Most 18-year-olds will already have benefited from two years of post-16 education and will not therefore need as much non-qualification provision within their study programmes as 16 and 17-year-olds.
“Fewer than one in five of 16 to 18-year-olds funded by the agency are aged 18 at the start of the academic year, although clearly this will vary by institution.
“The funding rate for full-time 18-year-old students in 2014/15 will be 17.5 per cent below the rate for full-time 16 and 17-year-olds. This will apply to all elements of the formula except the flat rates for disadvantaged students without GCSE grade C or above in English or maths, recognising the importance of English and maths for disadvantaged 18-year-olds.
“Students with a learning difficulty assessment or a statement of special educational needs will not be affected by this change.”
However, Mr Doel said 16 to 18-year-olds were already funded at a rate 22 per cent lower than that for schoolchildren, aged five to 15.
“As a result of the government’s decision to protect the level of funding for the education of five to 15-year-olds, it is England’s 16 to 18-year-olds who continue to lose out despite their education already being funded at a rate lower than pre-16 education,” he said.
“The latest announcement from the DfE means that 18-year-olds will be funded at an even lower rate.
“Young people who have struggled to reach the expected level by the age of 18, and therefore need to stay in education a year longer, will see their funding cut.
“By definition these are the students who need extra help, not less. I have already raised my concerns personally with Education Minister David Laws and will continue to do so.”