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.

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  1. Yeah, but are we allowed to charge them exam fees?

    This is truly unbelievable, providers having been telling punters one thing for the last SIX MONTHS and now they change the rules by PRESS RELEASE without any thought to the ramifications for data and audit…

    Utter shambles

  2. I absolutely agree with the sentiments above, but at the end of the day, this is good news, right? Might depend on the detail in the guidance – which is ‘due to be issued shortly by the Skills Funding Agency’.

  3. Adam Betts

    So when we get audited, can we quote Skills Minister John Hayes (via FE Week) as evidence of compliance?

    Geoff Russell says:

    “This decision is another example of putting freedom and flexibility into practice”

    I say this decision is a shambles and totally undermines any attempt by FE colleges to plan curriculum, resources and budgets in advance.

  4. Susie Kusnierz

    I am delighted that colleges are being allowed to exercise discretion but surely most institutions are going to be severely constrained by lack of funding. Learners assessed as co-funded only attract half the funding of those on active benefits and so few institutions are going to be able to support significant numbers.
    With only two weeks to go before open enrolment, how are institutions to make the difficult decisions as to how many students they can help and what the eligibility criteria will be?

  5. John Jones

    I am not in the least surprised that the funding and eligibility criteria are changed in-year, as it always seems to happen. The best ones are those that change in February and are backdated….Will we never learn?

  6. There is no additional funding associated with it (presumably), so apart from the altruistic gesture of providers to offer courses that progress to employment to those on inactive benefits – what’s in it for the providers? It is a loss of income (exam fees, registration fees etc) which we would get learners not on active benefits OR is the funding rule going to be explicit enough and tell us that we will be fully funded for these learners as well! In which case, are we saying those on inactive benefits, but on qualifications that enable progression to employment?