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Learning accounts 'will not aid poor'

INDIVIDUAL learning accounts are unlikely to help those with few or no qualifications, according to a senior economist.

In a paper to be published next week, Peter Robinson, of the centre-left think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research, says the accounts will do little for low achievers, who tend to be from poorer social backgrounds.

The accounts enable employers, individuals and government to invest jointly in lifelong learning. Trainees must invest some of their own money to get a subsidy from the Government.

Peter Robinson argues that well-educated professionals will invest in themselves, with their employers' support. Because of their better access to, and use of education, they will be best placed to identify and take up new learning opportunities.

But those at the other extreme, with poor qualifications, will be unlikely to invest in the accounts.

Mr Robinson said, if public funding was to be targeted on those most in need, there as a strong argument for direct grants to purchase the learning most appropriate for individuals.

In another paper, Gareth Williams, professor of educational administration at London's Institute of Education, argues that investments such as pensions and personal savings could be combined with learning accounts to create a "personal development" account over the individual's lifecycle, effectively one's own personal venture capital fund".

In England alone, more than 101,000 accounts had been opened by the end of February, against a UK target of 100,000 by April 2000. People can currently open accounts with training and enterprise councils, but they will be able to open them through a national system and use them in September.

The Government has hired Capita, a business support services company, to develop and manage ILAs. The contract is worth more than pound;50 million over three years and the firm expects more than 10m enquiries in the first year.

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