PEOPLE opening individual learning accounts will be able to "learn now, pay later" under provisional plans issued by the Department for Education and Employment which would allow them to run up overdrafts.
A briefing pack sent out this month by the DFEE to companies interested in running the ILA's customer service centres, and obtained by The TES, says that one of five "key features" of the new accounts will be a "credit element" which might include an easy payment plan.
The document says the overdraft plan would be "subject to further clarification of policy implications" but adds that "there is a strong indication from the research which suggests that the availability of credit may increase demand".
The DFEE is seeking a "well- established private-sector partner to deliver the services within a long-term Public-Private Partnership".
The role of administering and managing interactions between the different partners in the scheme may be attractive to companies such as Capita, which have recently expanded their FE interest and have a strong track record in information management systems in education.
The document also includes details of DFEE research on the current learning market, and anticipates a target group of up to 10 million people for ILAs.
ILAs give holders discounted course fees and a Government top-up in return for a small personal contribution. They are now being piloted and a million accounts will be available by 2002.
Five groups are seen as "early adopters" of the accounts - 18 to 25-year-olds who have low or no qualifications, women returners to work, the self- employed, non-teaching school staff and ethnic minorities, particularly Asian and Afro-Caribbean groups. Sixty-one per cent of those questioned said they would be interested in an initiative that made it easier to pay for learning and training.
When ILAs were described to them, 21 per cent said they would be likely to open one now and 52 per cent in the future.
A short-list of firms will be drawn up in early December, with the winner of the contract being announced next April.