The government will be pressured by Labour in the coming months to scrap advanced learner loans, its leader Jeremy Corbyn has told FE Week.
And the party confirmed it will also look into ending historical FE loan debts, in a welcome boost to our #SaveOurAdultEducation campaign demanding action for learners left with huge debts and no qualifications.
In an exclusive interview, FE Week asked Mr Corbyn if Labour planned to campaign for an end to FE loans, as well as higher education.
“We will be pushing the government in parliament on this,” he said. “We will be really raising the whole question of university and FE loans.
“If we don’t properly fund our FE system, if we don’t give students parity of esteem between going to university and vocational education, then we all lose out.”
I like a challenge. We’ve got to start dealing with this debt crisis that we’re foisting on our young people
Mr Corbyn previously indicated, in an interview with music magazine NME, that his party would consider wiping all existing student loan debt if it got into power.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner was asked about this proposal – which goes further than the party’s election manifesto pledge to scrap university tuition fees – by the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday, July 9.
Ms Rayner said Mr Corbyn had only indicated it was an “ambition” at present, but, she added, “I like a challenge. We’ve got to start dealing with this debt crisis that we’re foisting on our young people. It’s not acceptable.”
Meanwhile, the Labour press office told us that “Labour is committed to scrapping student fees for both FE and higher education, and restoring university maintenance grants and the education maintenance allowance.
“Additionally, we acknowledge the need to address historical student debts. A Labour government will consider the scope for this depending on economic circumstances at the time.”
The party’s general election manifesto pledged to campaign for “free, lifelong education in FE colleges, enabling everyone to upskill or retrain at any point in life”.
The recently appointed Conservative skills minister Anne Milton has been tasked with leading a review of funding across tertiary education.
When the review was first announced in the party’s general election manifesto, it prompted speculation that it might include a rethink on the controversial loans.
Advanced learner loans were first introduced in 2013 for learners aged 24+ at levels three and four, but were later expanded in 2016 to cover all learners aged 19+. However they continue to suffer from low take-up.
Loans allocations for 2016/17 stand at £335 million. The latest figures from the Student Loans Company show that just £146.9 million was paid to providers between August 2016 to April 2017 on behalf of 73,500 learners starting courses in 2016/17.
FE Week’s #SaveOurAdultEducation campaign, launched in the Houses of Parliament in February, calls for debts to be written off for hundreds of former learners who were left with huge loans debts but no qualifications, after their providers went bust.
The campaign scored a partial victory in April when the Department for Education announced it would defer affected learners’ loan repayments for a year.
But we revealed this week that at least nine former learners affected by the demise of Hampshire-based Edudo Ltd are still having to make repayments.
The Department for Education was unable to comment on this ahead of publication.