The Educational Institute of Scotland is sticking to its policy of "education free to all at the point of entry". The union, whose College Lecturers' Association represents 95 per cent of all FE lecturers, also wants full restoration of student grants.
It acknowledges that "the weight of opinion is against this, mainly on the pragmatic ground that no Government is likely to be prepared to shoulder the financial implications. However, it is clear that the present fee plus loan system is very seriously flawed and does not result in social justice for the great majority of students."
The EIS has told the Cubie committee, which includes Marian Healy, the union's FE and HE officer, that the Government's policy of widening access will not be achieved unless the trend of loading more of the cost of learning onto the learner is "radically reversed".
The union says the present funding regime not only deters students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but also adds to the poverty of those who are not put off and do get a college or university place. It expresses concern "at the negative effects working long hours, often with little nourishment, are having on students' commitment to their coursework.
"Evidence shows that attendance is patchy, students unable to balance full-time attendance with the requirements of holding down a job. . . If student concentration on jobs overtakes their commitment to study, no amount of staff support will maintain standards," the union says.
The EIS proposes a compulsory education levy on employers, tapered according to the number of employees so as not to hit small and medium size firms. This would be used to promote training and learning opportunities.
The institute's submission also adds to the growing weight of evidence before Cubie that student funding cannot be reformed in isolation from the social security system.