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Colleges raid key funds for students

COLLEGES may be forced to raid access funds to bail out students cut off from cash in the new system of Individual Learning Accounts, introduced by the Government this term.

Access funds provide cash which should be spent only on getting under achievers into higher education, not on subsidising other government-funded programmes. A snap survey by TES FE Focus of colleges using the new ILA scheme - aimed at encouraging people to invest in their own learning - shows huge extra costs. The system is creating its own costly bureaucracy, say managers administering it.

And there are reports that employers are "subverting the rules" to get the Government to pay for staff training. The ILA is meant to be a three-way investment from employer, trainee and government, with the Government paying up to pound;150 for course fees. One abuse reported is where employers pay part of the bill to get government cash for training that would otherwis be paid for in full by the company.

Inquiries by FE Focus follow revelations earlier this month that "red tape" may prevent students from getting promised cash (TES, September 8). But it was clear this week that the crisis is deeper.

Registration backlogs of three to four weeks will mean many students did not have accounts cards with Capita (the government-appointed company running the scheme) when they signed up for courses. Sutton Coldfield College was told that hundreds of students fail to qualify without cards.

Colleges are having to recruit extra staff to log information on Capita's website. Student Internet access is restricted so that admin staff can communicate with Capita.

Graham Jones, principal of Sutton Coldfield College, condemned the new bureaucracy. "The existing student records system could have been used for ILA people," he said. (See www.tesfefocus.co.uk for full story and letters.)

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