Business Secretary Vince Cable’s exclusive confirmation to FE Week that the apprenticeship loans system was being dropped was a victory for many in the sector, including the National Union of Students. But, as Toni Pearce explains, the fight against the wider FE loans system continues.

I’m incredibly pleased that Business Secretary Vince Cable confirmed the 24+ advanced learning loans system will be entirely scrapped for apprentices after it failed to attract anywhere near the number of people the government hoped.

Latest figures, released yesterday, showed that of the 55,184 FE loan applications up to November 30, just 1 per cent were for apprenticeships.

The government U-turn is due, in part, to the incredible lobbying work that was undertaken by student unions across the country.

Since achieving significant concessions on the original proposals for FE Fees, our ‘No to FE fees’ campaign has particularly focused on the apprenticeships aspect, so it is incredible to see how our relentlessly focussed approach has chipped away so dramatically at a policy that government were absolutely set on.

The remaining system of FE fees is obviously still seriously unfair and problematic

The National Union of Students [NUS] has been committed to campaigning against the introduction of HE-styled loans for students in FE aged 24 and over studying at level three since their initial inception.

The scheme seems to have been a total failure and we have always said that this is a terrible policy which has created a system that doesn’t work.

It’s still astonishing that the government was hell-bent on implementing this policy even though its own research said that two thirds of learners wouldn’t take out a loan to study.

The policy risked putting people off studying and had grave impacts for those aged 24 and above who undertake a higher level apprenticeship taking out a loan of up to several thousand pounds so they could, essentially, pay to work.

The advanced learner loan is a major deterrent to study for those from lower income backgrounds. It means that the full cost of education was on the individual.

The remaining system of FE fees is obviously still seriously unfair and problematic.

FE is brilliant because it provides important second chances for millions of people. It is especially important for those who have families, bills to pay and already live within a tight budget.

The central issue still remains that we should be making FE as accessible as possible, rather than removing the public contribution towards teaching costs for so many adults who wish to re-skill.

Women will be disproportionately affected as they often return to study later in life after having a family. Those already economically disadvantaged such as black and minority ethnic and disabled students will be priced out of education.

Access for mature students to higher education will be threatened as they often acquire their highest pre-entry qualification later in life.

Research conducted by the NUS and Million+ suggests that nearly two thirds of mature students applying to a HE course with a level three qualification completed this qualification when they were aged 24 or over.

We simply cannot underestimate the hugely negative impact this policy will have on widening participation into higher education.

Now more than ever, we need to be investing in jobs and in a highly-skilled workforce. This is why we will continue to make the case for the system to be scrapped in its totality.

Toni Pearce, president, National Union of Students

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