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Free tuition to boost adult skills

But Government scraps plans to replace learning accounts. Ngaio Crequer reports

NEW education grants for all low-skilled adults studying full-time is the key feature of the Government's skills White Paper, leaked to FE Focus.

The Government intends to extend existing maintenance allowances, currently pound;30 a week for 16 to 19-year-olds, to adults, to overcome the "stubbornly persistent" skills gap. Only 28 per cent of the UK workforce have intermediate or technician skills, compared with 51 per cent in France and 65 per cent in Germany.

The Government has clearly recognised the call on all sides for public funding for those over 25, though there will be a price.

Adults studying full-time for their first level 2 qualification (five GCSEs at A*-C or equivalent), and those aged 19 to 30 studying for their first level 3 (two A-levels or equivalent) will receive the allowances, although they will be phased in. Tuition will be free with no fees charged.

But what it gives, it takes away. Plans to replace individual learning accounts (ILAs) have been scrapped. The new entitlements to free learning provide the elements the Government sought to develop within ILAs, the paper says.

The paper, published next Wednesday, recognises that government programmes in the past have looked "disjointed, piecemeal and inconsistent".

It proposes a new Skills Alliance to integrate the work of government departments, and at local level, that of regional development agencies, the learning and skills councils and their partners.

It will make the Modern Apprenticeship programme more flexible, and is committed to the "principle" of removing the age cap. As a first step, young people who start a Modern Apprenticeship at any point up to the age of 25, will be able to complete it. Beyond that, change will have to be managed over time.

But there will need to be a re-prioritising of public funds, says ministers. "We believe it is fair that those learners who have got qualifications and wish to undertake further study at the same or at a lower level, should pay more."

In recent years colleges' fee income has fallen, as they have chosen not to charge in order to maximise enrolments. Making up the fees shortfall by increasing funding, is not affordable, says the paper.

It proposes a new "national framework for the setting of fees in FE". It says colleges will still have discretion to set fees in the light of local circumstances.

Some fear that many leisure and cultural courses will wither on the vine.

People learning for leisure or personal development will be more "likely" to need to contribute more to the costs.

On the issue of whether companies should be compelled to invest in skills, the case is not yet proven. Instead the Government wants to seek the middle ground by encouraging collaborative voluntary action by employers and employees.

The qualifications framework will be reformed to make it more responsive to employers' needs.

There will be a credit framework for adults to enable them to plan their learning progress.

Skills, 32, 34

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