A catalogue of incompetence that beggars understanding

Do you feel tired, angry, depressed? Then take comfort from the fact that you're not alone. No doubt everyone who was conned into signing up for an Individual Learning Account (ILA) is in exactly the same position. Government aid for students on reduced income? Don't make me laugh.

My problems started in a minor key but have grown in proportion and display a catalogue of misinformation, incompetence, discourtesy and misrepresentation that beggars understanding. Indeed the firm view that one is left with, is that the left hand does not know what the other left hand is doing.

I registered for an ILA account in November 2000 and later enrolled with the Open University with the intention of working towards a degree in sociology. As I had suffered a serious heart attack and had been forced to take early retirement, the inducement of ILA funding was most attractive. I received partial funding in the first year and had no reason to doubt that this would be forthcoming in the future.

However my confidence was misplaced. After numerous letters which indicated clearly that the OU and the ILA were not working in a joined up manner, the bombshell fell. I would not receive any funding as my second year course began within one year of the first. (This was despite the fact that the study period fell into two different calendar years).

Undaunted I recently applied for my third year of study because, after all, surely there could be no overlap this time, and no grounds for denying me funding. Now, however, an interesting variant has been introduced: it is not starting early enough that is the problem but starting too late. The ILA scheme in Scotland was withdrawn on December 21 last year. Only those courses that started by January 31 this year were eligible for funding.

What is clear ftom my individual circumstances is that students have been betrayed and Government rhetoric counts for nothing. Far from promoting study it has encouraged poor students to enrol for courses they could not afford, and then withdrawn the safety net.

I will continue at considerable personal cost but my heart goes out to those who will be forced to abandon their studies. A caring administration concerned with social justice and helping the poorest members of society ? Pull the other one.

James Grierson

Moffat Road, Dumfries

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