FE Focus Editor's comment

5th March 2004 at 00:00
It is called the Daily Mail Effect. Every time the European Union expands there are dire warnings of barbarian hordes invading British shores to grab jobs and exploit the welfare and benefits system. Over-reacting, the Government kicks shut the door on so-called benefits tourists.

This time, tens of thousands of Gypsies are apparently about to quit the Czech Republic for a new life here.

The same scare stories were put about when Greece, Portugal and Spain joined the EU. But it never happened then and it won't happen now. More's the pity, some say, since many have vital skills our ageing population lacks.

And if they lack the skills, there are plenty of colleges ready to teach and equip them. Unfortunately, that door has also been kicked shut by a perverse combination of regulations.

Colleges have been very successful in recruiting adults from Eastern Europe, bringing in fees of up to pound;3,500 a head. From May 1, however, those same students would have permanent student status and be entitled to the same rates as UK adults, pegged at as little as pound;500.

The Learning and Skills Council has shifted its priorities to focus on getting 16 to 19-year-olds full time into college. This is an entitlement and there is no question of turning them away. There is only a 5 per cent increase in budgets to reflect this. But what happens in areas where the 5 per cent is busted?

Both Bryan Sanderson, outgoing chair of the LSC, and the learning and skills minister Alan Johnson have warned of unpalatable choices for colleges over adult funding.

So, formerly enterprising colleges starved of cash from private fees will be struggling to meet their 16-19 commitments. Moreover, fee-paying overseas students are traditionally high achievers. The loss of this group may be reflected in declining achievement rates, and subsequent loss of LSC money.

It is an example of EU membership working against the best interests of adults. Which raises a question: didn't the LSC know EU enlargment was looming when budgets were planned?

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