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Red tape ties up learning accounts

GOVERNMENT plans to help poor students through Individual Learning Accounts could be thwarted by red tape.

Students enrolling this week could find they are too late to claim their entitlement. At Waltham Forest College in east London, some students have paid the full cost of a course rather than risk losing a place while they wait to open their account.

Although further education personnel support the accounts in principle, they have been critical of the start-up procedures. John Brennan, director of further education development at the Association of Colleges, believes that "the timetable has generated difficulties and placed an extra administrative load on colleges". Course registration was made cumbersome by technical hitches.

Paul Crisp, Coventry Technical College's director of learning development, says the new system needed to start quicker. "They have built the whole thing from scratch without taking notice of existing information."

He says the system will make it difficult for college staff toadvise students on what they can afford as they take on more courses. All information is centralised on a system which will only say whether a student has funds for a particular course, not what their "credit limit" is.

Private providers are also critical. John Holden, managing director of RDI Ltd, a training provider in Coventry, complained of receiving contradictory information from Capita, the support services firm appointed by the Government to administer the system.

He also said the launch of the accounts obscured the abolition of vocational tax relief on August 31 - the day before the accounts came into operation.

"VTR" he says, "was a simple, straightforward system" which allowed employers to claim 22 per cent of the cost of training. "Now students and businesses don't know what it will cost."

Capita's marketing manager, Kevin Green, said it collaborated closely with the Department for Education and Employment to devise a system that would guarantee the safety and security of funds.

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