‘FE loans coming at worst possible time’ – MP

DEARNE MP John Healey has criticised the government for charging older students more at “the worst possible time” and not giving MPs enough time to challenge the changes.

Speaking in two separate debates in the House of Commons, he warned that plans to make those over 24 pay the full cost of their course at level 3 (A level equivalent and above), including apprenticeships – up to £4,000 – will put thousands off going to college.

Yesterday he warned the FE minister, John Hayes: “In Rotherham and Barnsley, there are probably 3,000 students over 24 who could be hit by up to £4,000 a year extra, for the first time ever paying the full cost of their fees and having to take out student loans for further education.

“Does he agree that that will put people off and that it is perhaps the worst possible time to introduce student loans for further education, when people are worried about their jobs, their debt and how they are going to pay the bills?

In an earlier debate he criticised the tabling of a statement and regulations just three days before MPs leave Parliament for the summer recess, and said this would stop MPs from “properly challenging this big change.”

After a campaign by MPs including Mr Healey, the government have announced concessions over their plan to bring in FE loans.

But Mr Healey said he still had concerns:

“MPs like me and college principals have been raising concerns on the government’s plan for FE loans for months.

“That campaign has now produced concessions which reflect the concerns we have raised with ministers.

“However real fears remain over the impact FE loans could have. Just one in 10 students said they would still definitely continue their courses if loans were introduced.

“Adult and Further Education should be accessible to all – it is vital for social mobility and widening participation. We must give those who miss out first time a proper second chance to gain skills and qualifications.”

One of Mr Healey’s main concerns about the proposals was the increased cost of HE Access, a route to university for those who missed out first time round or are from more disadvantaged backgrounds. He feared these students would face a ‘double whammy’ – accruing significant debts even before they reach university, where they will face tripled tuition fees.

Now the government have said the Student Loans Company will write off the loan for the Access course when HE is completed. There will also be a bursary fund to help students with learning difficulties or disabilities, parents needing help with childcare and ex-military personnel.