pound;400m student aid call;FE Focus

Ngaio Crequer

Lane Group recommends FE students should receive means-tested grants. Ngaio Crequer reports.

FURTHER education needs an injection of pound;400 million to ensure students get adequate financial support, a government-commissioned report has concluded.

The Lane Group report says there should be minimum entitlements to help all school sixth-form and college students meet expenditure on transport, books, equipment and childcare. It also proposes that most of the payments should be means-tested.

The group, headed by Graham Lane, education chairman of the Local Government Association, was set up to advise the Government on how best to target financial support on further education students most in need. The Teaching and Higher Education Bill currently before Parliament removes local education authorities' power to make discretionary awards to FE students.

The group found that expenditure on discretionary awards for FE has reduced dramatically. It has almost halved from pound;187m in 199293 to pound;100m in 199596 and is still falling.

Although it it expected that the 19992000 FEstudent numbers will be almost 50 per cent greater than the 19923 total, the group's proposals would represent an increase in expenditure per student of only 15 per cent in real terms.

The support system is "in desperate need of replacement," the group says. It adds that students should have the same entitlement to financial support to meet the costs of study, irrespective of where they live, and it should be targeted on those on low incomes.

The group recommends that there should be minimum entitlements for 16 to 19-year-olds in schools and colleges to cover transport and other living costs. For students aged 19 or over there should be minimum entitlements for travel, childcare and fees. Students on low incomes should not have to pay registration fees.

"Consideration should be given to ending the disparity between the availability of support for students in higher education and FE. For higher-level FE courses, maintenance might be in the form of loans, delivered through individual learning accounts."

The group also wants changes to the jobseekers allowance so that study leading to improved employability should be accepted as a means of satisfying the "actively seeking work" requirement.

The Association of Colleges warmly welcomed the proposals. John Brennan, AOCpolicy director and a member of the Lane Group, said: "Inequities in support between college and university students cannot be justified any longer and must be narrowed. For a modest contribution - guaranteed assistance with transport and an educational allowance of no more than pound;300 to pound;500 a year - we can give give those 16 to 19-year-olds for whom family and social pressures against continuing education are strongest, a powerful incentive to make the critical breakthrough to qualifications beyond GCSE.

"We would also like the group to push to transfer the pound;600m of child benefit for 16 to 18-year-olds into a means-tested universal benefit going straight into the pocket of the young school-leaver.

"The two sources of income together would give the poorest youngsters up to pound;40 a week to stay on. Children from poor families are still by far the most likely to leave education and training too early, to go into low-skilled and insecure jobs. Direct financial incentives to the young person will help break this cycle," he said.

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Ngaio Crequer

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