Skills Funding Agency announce late and unexpected changes to learner fees

The Skills Funding Agency has announced for the first time that non-tuition fee income (such as for registrations and exams) will not be permitted for fully-funded learners starting courses from this week.

The Agency published their Adult Skills Budget Funding Requirements 2011/12 last Friday, for courses starting just three days later. Given the lateness of the Funding Requirements publication, few expected any surprises. In fact, the Agency had already published three seperate smaller 2011/12 Guidance Notes in December 2010, April 2011 and July 2011.

Yet, paragraph 36 of the Funding Requirements states for the first time: “It is the Agency’s policy that all learners following learning aims that are fully-funded classroom learning cannot be charged any fees or charges, including registration, assessment or examination charges in connection with those learning aims”

Most colleges charge registration and exam fees to learners on fully-funded courses, and had signed off their 2011/12 fee policies with their governing body many months ago. Since then colleges have been advertising their fees in line with the Agency’s 2011/12 Learner Eligibility and Contribution Rules .

Paragrpah 91 states:”Providers must also ensure that all learners are aware of their Fees and Charging Policy” and many learners have already paid their registration fee in advance of starting their course.

Julian Gravatt, Assistant Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges told FE Week: “This rule change was announced on 29th July for implementation on 1st August. Clearly there are arguments for and against the charges that are made to their students but the Skills Funding Agency needs to consult, to evaluate the impact of its plans and to give enough notice. AoC has taken this up with SFA staff and we’re hopeful of a resolution.”

In defiance of the change in government policy FE Week has been unable to find a college that is intending to change their fees policy at this late stage.

UPDATE 3rd August. Statement from the Skills Funding Agency:

“We are aware of sector concerns around learner fees, raised in the Funding Guidance published on our website last week. We are working with sector representatives and will provide clarity in relation to the fee charging policy in the next few days.

The Agency also recognises concerns over the delay in the funding guidance being published. We apologise for this. The delay was due to ensuring the funding requirements reflected all of the latest policy changes. However, the Agency tried to ensure that any substantial changes were previously trailed through the series of guidance notes published throughout the year.”

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