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It’s never a surprise to see a new way of doing things come along for the ever-resilient FE sector.

But the advent of 24+ advanced learning loans has left many feeling unprepared.

College leaders, lecturers, trainers and students are all grappling to get their heads around the new funding regime — the first time a credit system has entered the world of FE.

It has been brought in by the government as it scraps subsidies for mature students, getting them to foot the bill instead.

This supplement aims to offer a helping hand while assessing this change, casting a critical eye over where the main challenges lie and what the current thinking on them is.

On the next page we start off by looking at the background to the new loans system — the government’s justification for them and the finances involved.

A flowchart on page 4 explains the journey the learner will take through the new system, steered by the Skills Funding Agency, with anchorage from providers and the Students Loans Company.

On page 5 we have compiled a handy collection of figures such as how much students would start paying back per month, once they become eligible to cover their debt.

But how have prospective learners heard of the change?

This supplement aims to offer a helping hand”

On page 6 we hear about the government-funded marketing of loans and how providers are using their allotted cash to promote them — complete with the posters, slogans and some of the artwork they used.

And a 27-year-old learner tells FE Week first-hand on page 7 why she couldn’t go back to education without the funds as she waits on her loans application.

Page 8 and 9 carry an advert from Tribal, before we hear how providers have supported learners in taking up a loan through the learning and funding information letter, on page 10.

Providers have explained, on page 11, how they set their fees as a result of the loans, and the bursary fund — for students with extra needs — is explored with some of its flaws exposed.

Fierce opponents of learners incurring debt are Shadow Skills Minister Gordon Marsden and Toni Pearce — soon to become the National Students Union’s president.

Both make their thoughts clear on pages 12 and 13 with Mr Marsden warning the sector isn’t ready for what he describes as the “biggest change in FE in over a generation”.

And Ms Pearce points to a survey her union sent out which showed a quarter of lecturers, managers, support staff, and students were “not at all” aware of the new system, while just six in 10 were “slightly aware”.

On the other hand David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, considers the possibility that relationships could improve between providers and learners as students become “empowered” customers.

And Barry Brooks, strategic adviser to the Tribal board, talks of the risks that will lie on principals’ shoulders with the birth of the new regime.

Finally on pages 14 and 15 we have provided a list of resources you can use to help you find out more.

Whatever your role in the sector the message out there is loud and clear — everyone needs to know what these loans are for, how they might be of use and what to be aware of.

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