Mixed welcome for Budget plans to discount fees on economically critical courses. Ian Nash reports
NEW Government cash for training will be targeted at colleges which run courses designed to meet the needs of employers with serious skills shortages.
But the methods to be adopted by David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, have been greeted with scepticism by further education leaders.
Plans unveiled in Chancellor Gordon Brown's Budget this week involve tax breaks for employers who contribute to individual learning accounts. Also, adults who use the accounts to sign-up for basic skills courses will be offered discounts of up to 80 per cent.
The plans spelled out by Mr Brown restrict the discounts to adults on computer courses. But a senior Government source told The TES that Mr Blunkett would extend the offer to adults signing up for skills training in areas where there are shortages in jobs critical to the local economy.
An ILA is a savings fund in which the employer, individual and Government can invest for future training. They are currently being piloted in 13 areas of England and Wales. Every individual who invests pound;25 gets a pound;150 top-up from Government.
Literacy and numeracy courses will also be targeted. There is considerable evidence from ILA pilot areas that basic skills linked to training enhances the employment potential of individuals.
While the initiative was welcomed by FE leaders, there were doubts about the effectiveness of discounted ILAs. Chris Hughes, chief executive of the Further Education Development Agency, said they would open doors for the most disadvantaged.
"However, FEDA's research has shown that finance isn't the most significant barrier to education and training. If people are offered courses that meet their long-term goals, they are more likely to stay-on," he said. The task was to get the people on the right courses and to help them stay there.
John Brennan, director of development for the Association of Colleges, said: "It is important that these incentives are offered across the widest range of options, not just for jobs of economic importance."
Peter Robinson, senior research director for the Institute of Public Policy Research, was "extremely sceptical" about the use of ILAs. "They don't deal with the fundamental problems of training but with the inability of the individual to borrow to invest in training," he said. "The Government is addressing the right questions but it is not coming up with the right answers."
However, the Budget measures will bring colleges new business, and many believe the ILAs will make it easier to attract under-achievers in numbers to meet the Government's 700,000 FE growth targets over the next two years.
Other Budget measures include pound;750 grants for unemployed adults over 50 to retrain for work.
Ministers are also looking to the ILA proposals for a more radical reform of the entire post-16 education and training sector after the next General Election. Proposals based on ILAs which cover student support, fees and expenses for all are being considered.
A paper drawn-up for the FEDA suggests this would offer a solution to the war between schools and colleges over the advantage schools have with sixth-form funding.
Inclusive learning, 30-33
ILA proposals 31