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More grants, less cash;FE Focus

AOC fears that plans to give all students funding, will actually leave many worse off. Ian Nash reports

ALMOST 100,000 16 to 19-year-olds will be worse off under Government plans to give all college students and sixth-formers education maintenance grants, according to new research.

Detailed analysis of spending plans will be put to MPs by the Association of Colleges next week. They show that, in the year when the Government expects FE to expand by almost 260,000 students, there will be no cash to attract them.

Money to pay for the Government's new flagship Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) will be taken from national access funds and spent in 12 pilot areas next year.

Until now, cash has gone to the neediest students throughout the country. What funds are left will have to be spread even more thinly, the AOC will tell the Commons' education and employment select committee.

Ironically, school sixth-form students, who are generally better-off than their college counterparts, will benefit most. Both sectors are expected to receive similar levels of additional support but schools do not have the same expansion targets.

Local education authority grants in non-pilot areas will all but disappear, the AOC analysis shows. And, during the pilot phase, some students will receive pound;40 a week while classmates or neighbours in equal need may get nothing.

Numbers of full-time 16 to 19-year-olds in FE are expected to grow by 28,000 over the next two years - the first stage of the EMA programme. But the Government has a bigger agenda over the same period, to reach 700,000 marginalised adults and young drop-outs - 260,000 next year and 340,000 in 2001.

New resources will total pound;83 million over two years, but this must be weighed against the loss of pound;98m in LEA discretionary awards. Average support for 16 to 19-year-old FE students in England is currently pound;430 a year. Under the EMA pilots, one in 10 students will get the pound;40 a week while the rest will get nothing.

College leaders say that any attempts to meet the demands of the group will leave nothing in reserve to attract the poorest and most disaffected minorities, whom colleges must recruit to reach Government targets.

"The overall effect of the new package will be a worsening in levels of support available for the majority of students within the FE sector by 2000-1," the report to MPs warns.

John Brennan, AOC director of development, said: "I have to say we are dismayed by the prospect. We are not against the EMA pilots but it is not on to take money from other students to pay for them."

The report, drawn up by Mr Brennan, also raises concern about the further erosion of other services such as student transport, as LEAs themselves come under cash pressures.

There is a lack of confidence in their ability to fulfil statutory requirements despite Standards Fund grants for transport and money through the Lifelong Learning Partnership funds.

The select committee will be warned of a funding "timebomb" as the AOC estimates that an equitable post-16 allowance system will cost pound;500m regardless of the outcome of the pilots.

Problems facing adults have not even begun to be addressed, the AOC report warns. "A lack of parallel post-19 scheme will leave a major gap in support arrangements."

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