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A tough course in breadline skills;FE Focus

Ngaio Crequer reports on how colleges are setting out to alleviate student poverty and Harvey McGavin (below) meets three of its victims.

Colleges have had to dig deep into their own funds to ensure students are able to take up, or stay on courses, a survey by the Association of Colleges reveals.

Some 88 per cent of colleges surveyed said they held money, other than Further Education Funding Council Access Funds, in order to assist students financially.

But there was an enormous difference in the total amount of funding held for 19978. It ranged from pound;100 to pound;575,000 per college, with an average of pound;31,907 per college. The distribution of the payments to students ranged from pound;1 (for example, emergency bus fare) to pound;6,000 (for example, childcare place in a college nursery).

The average was pound;141 per student. The survey found that 87 per cent of student support funds were paid as grants or awards, with the remaining 13 per cent to be paid back by the recipients.

Some students had to be denied financial assistance. Some 114 colleges supplied information under this heading, resulting in an average per college of 17 students (13 full-time and four part-time). "The number of students refused help represents 6 per cent of all those applying for financial assistance (assuming that all those who are helped plus all those who are refused, represents all those who apply)."

Many colleges allocated funds in order of priority. Transport was often the highest priority. For those colleges with student support funds, 93 per cent gave towards transport, 88 per cent towards booksequipmentmaterialsclothing, 78 per cent towards childcare, 63 per cent contributed to living expenses and 53 per cent remitted fees. Other lesser categories included examregistration fees, field tripsresidentials and work experience expenses. Two per cent of funds went towards both both meals and emergencies.

More than half of the colleges (53 per cent) reported changes to discretionary award funding between 1996-7 and 1997-8. Some 23 per cent of colleges said the number of awards had been reduced, 17 per cent said they had been stopped or withdrawn. In 15 per cent of cases the amount of funding had gone down, and in 3 per cent a geographical limit had been imposed.

Throughout, the main concern was transport, and rural colleges felt particularly threatened. They "suspected that the number of students able to access their courses would fall, that lecturers would be lost and that their financial viability would be seriously challenged".

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