Tuition fee loans will be available to FE learners aged 19 and over, chancellor George Osborne has announced.
In his autumn statement this afternoon, Mr Osborne told MPs that the government would “for the first time, provide tuition fee loans for those studying higher skills in FE”. Currently loans are only available to 24-plus learners.
Documents published alongside the statement explain that FE loans will be expanded to 19- to 23-year-olds studying at levels 3 and 4, as well as to those aged 19 and over at level 5 and 6.
The government also revealed that it plans to make £360 million in savings by 2019-20 through “efficiencies and savings in adult skills".
It states that these will be made from “supporting budgets, such as the UK Commission for Employment and Skills”. “The government is also restructuring the sector through locally-led area reviews to provide sustainable and high-quality provision in the future,” it adds.
The aim in expanding FE loans was to “provide a clear route for learners to develop high-level technical and professional skills”, according to the "blue book", which outlines the spending plans in more detail.
“This will benefit an estimated 40,000 students a year. The government will also consult on introducing maintenance loans for people who attend specialist, higher-level providers, including National Colleges,” the document adds.
Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said enabling 19-year-olds to access further education loans would “provide additional support for this vital training”.
But David Hughes, chief executive of lifelong learning charity Niace, warned that extending eligibility to younger learners and higher level learning “could easily exacerbate market failures in the 24-plus advanced learning loan system”. “This change makes it even more important for government and providers to work together to make the loans system much more flexible and provide better information to learners,” he said.
Shakira Martin, the National Union of Students' vice-president for further education, said the move was “nothing to celebrate”. She added: “If a student is capable of achieving a level 3 qualification but hasn’t for whatever reason been able to do so between 16-18, then that student has been let down. They shouldn’t be penalised by having to take out a university-style loan to cover the cost of a qualification so many of us take for granted. Government rhetoric suggests they want to improve access to education, but this clearly goes against that promise.”