Fees hike fails to put off adults

26th May 2006 at 01:00
Higher fees for adult vocational courses have not damaged recruitment, say three-quarters of principals.

While two-thirds say leisure courses have suffered as a result of increased charges, student numbers on vocational courses have remained steady.

The Learning and Skills Council commissioned a survey of 40 colleges to test how recruitment had been affected by the move towards charging adults half the cost of their vocational courses by 2010.

This year, colleges are expected to charge students 32.5 per cent of course costs, up 5 per cent on last year.

Geoff Daniels, director of funding and strategy at the LSC, said: "We want to be sure that, as we move towards government policy of 50 per cent fees, we understand what the effects will be.

"There will be challenges, there will be some courses that do run, and some that don't run. The reasons for that are a little bit more than just cutting money.

"The fact that the vast majority have said the new fee structures are not affecting enrolment or causing disruption is a positive sign and suggests that many users recognise the value of training and are prepared to contribute towards the cost of their learning."

The survey also found that three-quarters of principals supported higher fees to concentrate on level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) qualifications and basic skills.

Two of the 40 colleges had not raised fees. The largest group raised fees in line with the LSC's recommendations but more than a a fifth went further. Half the colleges had also cut concessions to pensioners and others on low incomes, although those on means-tested benefits are still not charged full fees.

But the report found some colleges were collecting far less from fee income than expected, given their courses and the type of student attending.

In one case, a college raised less than 10 per cent of its expected income.

Another managed to bring in double the typical fee income from its range of courses.

Recruitment to some courses, such as construction, hairdressing, and management or professional courses, has proved particularly resilient to higher charges.

Mr Daniels said the LSC would continue to monitor the effects of raising fees. The survey found many principals believed that charging a third of course cost was the most the market would bear.

Julian Gravatt, director of funding and development for the Association of Colleges, said the report showed that the fees policy had failed to increase colleges' income from students.

He said: "We are getting fewer people paying more. The overall balance of what colleges are raising is still the same, but there's just a smaller proportion of students paying it."

As fees rise to half of course cost there will be even more financial pressure on a smaller group, he said, adding that it was wrong for the LSC to separate the effects on vocational education and on adult and community learning, since both were important.

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