NORTHERN Ireland's minister for further and higher education, Sean Farren, has been urged to make radical changes to the system of student support to promote lifelong learning and end the second-class status of FE.
The calls come in the consultation on student finance, which closed three days after the minister was restored to office in the Northern Ireland executive.
In advance of the review, Mr Farren announced that mature students will get school-meal grants for their children and a rise in the income they can earn before losing financial support.
Mr Farren claimed this would give 3,000 full-time students an incentive to go o university. But the estimated cost of less than pound;1 million falls short of what the student unions say needs to be spent. They want full childcare costs, access to benefits, the abolition of tuition fees and non-repayable bursaries for disadvantaged students.
The Association of Northern Ireland Colleges told the review it backed a system of bursaries for students and free tuition for those earning less than pound;23,000.
In its submission the Ulster People's College claimed: "There is an anomaly in a student finance system favouring full-time study when the policy is to promote flexible, bite-sized learning."