Mature learners happy to pay

4th November 2005 at 00:00
Neil Merrick and Steve Hook report on controversial findings of fees survey.

Most adults are willing to pay more to study at further education colleges, according to a survey which is expected to be used as ammunition by ministers pushing for increased fees.

Many are even prepared to borrow to finance their courses, according to a NOP poll for the Learning and Skills Development Agency. The survey of 4,000 adults found 60 per cent would be prepared to fund some or all the cost of personal interest or leisure courses, and 54 per cent would pay for studies which further their careers.

Mick Fletcher, research manager at the agency, said: "A significant number of people didn't have a problem with saving and were willing to pay some or all of the costs. They are quite impressive figures that give some support to the Government's strategy.

"The argument for changing the balance paid by the individual and the state is not unreasonable, although there may be a tricky transition.

"Outside higher education, the actual sums that people are investing are not very much compared with the cost of a holiday."

Ministers announced last month that the contribution adults are expected to make towards most courses will increase from 27.5 per cent to 37.5 per cent over the next two years.

Bill Rammell, further and higher education minister, wants to see students and employers pay more.

The Association of Colleges moved to discredit the report on Tuesday - the day it went to Downing Street to present a petition of more than 60,000 names protesting about FE funding.

John Brennan, AoC chief executive, said: "Part of the problem is what people say in response to a survey is not always the same as what they are prepared to do when it comes to the crunch.

"The experience of colleges is that the willingness to pay significant increases in course fees is quite low. A survey of this kind is not an adequate basis for policy.

"The AoC is not ideologically opposed to fees but the Government needs to shape public attitude to FE, as it has with HE."

The association questions the extent to which the most vulnerable groups are included among the 4,000 people surveyed. Colleges have warned that high fees might mean scrapping courses.

Chris Hughes, chair of a recent inquiry into adult learning for the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said research into what learners were willing to pay was overdue - but there may be a gap between their intentions and what they do in reality.

Niace has long campaigned for a higher priority to be given to adult students, including those whose courses are leisure-orientated rather than vocational, arguing that the distinction is frequently arbitrary and that leisure learning can be a route to vocational programmes.

Funding petition 3

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