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Pounds 25 holiday study lure offered

Students are being offered cash incentives to attend college during the holidays for basic skills training.

The reward comes as colleges are increasingly using golden hellos and bursaries to attract and retain students in the competitive world of FE.

Up to 300 students due to sign up in September at Amersham and Wycombe College, Buckinghamshire, have been offered Pounds 25 each to come in for a week to improve their computer skills before the new term.

They will get the money only if they complete the week.

Amersham and Wycombe's programme will cost the college Pounds 7,500 - far less than it stands to lose if students fail to turn up in September. Up to 11 per cent of the Further Education Funding Council budget depends on recruitment.

John Brennan, policy director at the Association for Colleges, says that while students are attracted by cash incentives he is concerned by some of the schemes.

"Bribing students to attend particular colleges is unhelpful and undesirable on a moral and ethical basis, but students are facing severe financial pressures which inhibit their access to further education."

North Area College in Stockport is planning to splash out up to Pounds 100,000 this year in a bid to win students. Its scholarship scheme to attract high-fliers started five years ago. But the number applying has more than tripled in the past year, principal Chris Chapman told The TES.

Last summer it awarded Pounds 1,000 each to 30 students "who showed excellence and capability" based on their GCSE grades and their responses to a short application form.

This year Mr Chapman says 100 students have applied for the scholarship places and he expects as many as 80 or 90 to be accepted.

"The money handed out in scholarships comes from our trust fund and there is no ceiling on it," he said. The fund is supported by the college's business operations.

Ben Bennett, president of the Association of Principals of Colleges, is distressed by the idea of incentives.

"We support colleges giving students help with travel because this is not money in the hand, but I worry about colleges offering bounties to deflect students from one institution to another," he said.

A spokeswoman for the FEFC, which judges whether incentive schemes are legal, said colleges are increasingly handing out their own money to compensate for the falling funds given by local authorities in discretionary awards.

East Durham Community College plans to launch an award scheme this autumn, but it has run into problems with the council.

Principal Ian Prescott, said the college's solicitors were negotiating with the FEFC and had confirmed that not all students were eligible for the cash - one of the FEFC's guidelines.

East Durham's scheme is based on retaining students. It operates by awarding Pounds 50 a term to students who miss fewer than three days.

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