Widening the net of learning loans

Unions fear plans will leave 19-year-olds in `huge debt'

Staff and student unions in further education have expressed concern at government plans to introduce tuition fee-style loans for 19- to 23-year-olds.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis) wants to "expand and simplify" its Advanced Learning Loans scheme for learners aged 24 and over. It is proposing to make 19- to 23-year-olds pay the full cost of level 2 and 3 qualifications, including GCSEs, A-levels and vocational qualifications such as BTECs. Extending the loans would provide better access to the funding needed to participate in learning and training, it said.

Since the 24-plus scheme was introduced in April last year, nearly 70,000 loan requests have been made. However, Bis was forced to scrap higher apprenticeship loans after receiving only a fraction of the expected number of applications.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said her first reaction was "great concern" at any additional financial burden on students. "The government should be doing everything in its power to make education more appealing.We need more help for students, not more debt."

The National Union of Students was also "extremely concerned". President Toni Pearce said: "It is tragic to think that those who were failed by the education system first time round could end up saddled with huge debts at just 19, when they are simply trying to give themselves another shot at a future."

The consultation runs until 21 August.

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