Banks missing trick on loans for FE adults

9th July 2010 at 01:00
Chris Banks' report on fees is, at the very least, a triumph of semantics.

In the Banks universe "co-funding" and "co-investment" replace "fees" and "charging" so naturally that those who battled to introduce tuition fees in higher education must be consumed by envy.

Where HE has struggled to explain that a degree is not an extension of the Grand Tour, Mr Banks has taken it as read that FE has no principled objection to charging for education and training.

FE providers, their students and employers have long understood that while learning is many good things, it is also a commodity that delivers economic benefit. Providers might even be excused for believing there is a decent business to be had from selling courses - at least in theory.

The reality though, as Mr Banks lays bare, is that while all parties in FE buy into the theory of co-funding, they are considerably less likely to put their hands in their pockets. As Mr Banks says, learners and employers have all come to expect a freebie.

This seems to be less of an attack on employers, although it is interesting to note that Mr Banks asks them for hard cash rather than "in kind" support for training, but on a system that has all the credit control charateristics of a barter economy.

Mr Banks is absolutely right when he says that FE is not receiving the investment it should from those who should contribute. His solution also makes sense by linking state support to contributions from individuals and employers.

But the Banks report lacks a key ingredient, perhaps because it was not part of his remit, and that is a fair and sustainable system of financial support for adults in FE.

Learning Accounts are a good idea, but where are FE's adult learners expected to find the money to deposit in their accounts? Professional and Career Development Loans also have their place, but these must be repaid as soon as a course is completed.

Mr Banks touches on a solution when he says that student support in FE must be consistent with student support in HE.

How much neater would it be to offer HE-style loans for fees and living costs to adults in FE in place of a patchwork of entitlements.

And how much fairer would it be to reduce the state subsidy that loans provide to university students from better-off homes and extend the funding ladder to poorer students in FE?

Alan Thomson, Editor, FE Focus


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