Funding for A-level equivalents given stay of execution for a year
Funding for A-level equivalent courses for adults is being extended for a further year in response to concerns that cuts were due to take place before the replacement loan system was in action.
Loans, worth up to pound;4,000 and repayable on the same basis as those for university fees, will be introduced in 2013.
The Government had planned to abolish the entitlement for over-24s to free A-level equivalent courses from 2012, but said it had "listened to concerns".
Adults on advanced apprenticeships will also have to pay in 2013, but will only be eligible for loans covering half of the cost of their course. Their employers will be expected to cover the remainder, as they do now.
The consultation on the plans, called New Challenges, New Chances, said there were gaps in the evidence on the effect of asking adults to pay for courses through loans, and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said it was commissioning further research.
It cited a 2009 study by London Economics which estimated that a 10 per cent increase in fees reduced enrolment by 1-2 per cent, which suggested that demand for courses was not especially sensitive to price, according to the department.
But an earlier study by the Learning and Skills Research Centre found that only a third of students said they would consider funding their studies through loans.
The department said there was "limited" evidence of how willing over-24s in apprenticeships would be to contribute to the cost of their studies. This age group has been responsible for much of the rapid growth of apprenticeships under the Coalition, with an extra 82,000 starts in the first three quarters of last year alone.
The consultation also proposed further reductions in the inspection burden on colleges, including removal of Ofsted requirements for colleges rated "good" as well as "outstanding".
Colleges and training providers could also be freed from the requirement to send an annual self-assessment to Ofsted and the Skills Funding Agency, with the department proposing a "sector-led" approach.
A spokesman for the Association of Colleges said: "The consultation already gives us an idea of the direction of travel for Government policy in some areas; we welcome, for instance, the intention to continue funding level three courses before the FE loans system is put into place.
"There remain many questions that need to be answered about what that system would look like, not least how the repayment mechanism might operate. We welcome also the intention to further reduce bureaucracy and regulation in the further education system and the focus on increasing choice for colleges within the higher education validation process, for instance."
FE minister John Hayes said: "Our proposals describe the next steps towards a more confident, vibrant further education sector, ready to meet the challenges and seize the chances that a rebalanced, high-skill economy will present.
"This Government knows that skills change lives, nourish social renewal and feed economic growth."