From education to employment

The Cost-of-Living Crisis and 16-19 Year-Olds in Full-Time Further Education

James Kewin

Financial support for 16-19 year-olds was already creaking before the cost-of-living crisis hit, but the spike in demand for support from sixth form college students this year has accelerated the need for the system to undergo a radical overhaul.

The Impact on Students

Many colleges have seen a significant increase in the number of students applying for the 16-19 bursary fund – the main source of student financial support funding (outside the mainstream benefits system). There has been a greater demand for free meals alongside reduced footfall in college canteens. More students are reporting that they cannot afford to go on educational visits or university open days.

A growing number of young people are working longer hours alongside their studies to make ends meet, with some eventually dropping out of education altogether when the pressure becomes too much. Plus, simply getting to college is now unaffordable for some students in areas without subsidised bus or rail fares.

Given all of the above, it is unsurprising that growing numbers of students are choosing to leave full-time education to enter the workplace or start an apprenticeship. For some young people, that will be the right pathway, but we must guard against students leaving college primarily because they cannot afford to participate in full-time education.

The Solution: Boost Funding and Reduce Bureaucracy

At a headline level, the Government can help sixth form colleges to address these problems by doing two things: boosting student support funding and reducing the associated bureaucracy. Increasing the size of the 16-19 bursary fund and providing colleges with more flexibility to determine the students that are eligible, and the support that is needed, would be a welcome first step. While colleges can currently set their own eligibility criteria, this must comply with the conditions and funding rules set by the Government and delivery is subject to audit. We need to create a higher trust environment where colleges can tailor support to meet the needs of students and adopt innovative approaches to delivery, even when they may not be in line with ‘traditional’ regulations.

A Higher Free Meal Rate

The free meal rate of £2.41 per student has not changed since the policy was first introduced almost a decade ago. Even before food prices started to rise, it was very difficult to provide students with a decent meal for this.

A minimum rate of £5 per student would be more realistic and would enable funds that are currently used to supplement free meals to be used on other elements of student support. The flexibility and funding to provide more than one meal a day would also be welcome – weighing up whether to have breakfast or lunch is a decision that no student should have to make.

More Help with 16-19 Travel Costs

For some students, the cost-of-living crisis has meant that simply getting to college is a challenge. The 16-19 bursary fund is used to help with the cost of travel, but this is a good example of an issue that now affects many students, not just those that are eligible for bursary support. Transport costs are already starting to have an impact on attendance and retention in sixth form colleges and can dissuade students from attending university open days and other events that help to raise aspirations. Free or heavily subsidised travel should be extended to all 16-19 year-olds in England along the lines of the Our Pass system that currently operates in Greater Manchester.

Keeping Colleges Open for Longer

The impact of the cost-of-living crisis is also not limited to students that would historically access the 16-19 bursary fund or free meals – the need for support is becoming increasingly widespread, and so the system must evolve to reflect this. The need for support is also not limited to term time. Funding for colleges to stay open before and after the traditional college day and during the holidays would enable institutions to provide students with the warmth and food they need to study that they may not be receiving at home.

Action Today

The cost-of-living crisis is disproportionately affecting disadvantaged students, while simultaneously creating more disadvantaged students. The Government’s response must be targeted and immediate.

Recommendation 1

HM Treasury and the Department for Education should increase the size of the 16-19 bursary fund in England and provide colleges with more flexibility to determine the students that are eligible and the support that is needed.

Recommendation 2

HM Treasury and the Department for Education should increase the free meal rate to at least £5 per student and allow colleges the flexibility and funding to provide breakfast as well as lunch when it is needed.

Recommendation 3

The Department for Education and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities should introduce a free or heavily subsidised travel pass for all 16-19 year-olds in England, along the lines of the Our Pass system that currently operates in Greater Manchester.

By James Kewin, Deputy Chief Executive, Sixth Form Colleges Association

This article is part of Campaign for Learning’s series: Learning in the cold: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Post-16 Education and Skills

Order of series

Day 1

Friday 21st October

  1. Louise Murphy, Economist, Resolution Foundation: The Cost-of-Living and the Energy Crisis for Households 
  2. James Kewin, Deputy Chief Executive, Sixth Form Colleges Association: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and 16-19 Year-Olds in Full-Time Further Education 

Day 2

Saturday 22nd October

  1. Becci Newton, Public Policy Research Director, Institute for Employment Studies: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and 16-18 Year-Olds in Jobs with Apprenticeships 
  2. Zach Wilson, Senior Analysis Officer and Andrea Barry, Analysis Manager, Youth Futures Foundation: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and 16-24 Year-Olds ‘Not in Full-Time Education’ 

Day 3

Monday 24th October

  1. Nick Hillman, Director, Higher Education Policy Institute: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Full-Time and Postgraduate Higher Education 
  2. Liz Marr, Pro-Vice Chancellor – Students, The Open University: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Part-Time Higher Education in England 

Day 4

Tuesday 25th October

  1. Steve Hewitt, Further Education Consultant: The Cost-of-Living Crisis: Access to HE and Foundation Year Programmes 
  2. Sophia Warren, Senior Policy Analyst, Policy in Practice: The Cost-of-Living Crisis, Universal Credit, Jobs and Skills Training 

Day 5

Wednesday 26th October

  1. Paul Bivand, Independent Labour Market Analyst: Economic Inactivity by the Over 50s, the Cost-of-Living Crisis and Adult Training 
  2. Aidan Relf, Skills Consultant: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Employer Demand for Level 2-7 Apprenticeships 

Day 6

Thursday 27th October

  1. Mandy Crawford-Lee, Chief Executive, UVAC: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Employer Demand for Level 4+ Apprenticeships and Part-Time Technical Education 
  2. Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive, WEA: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Adult Community Learning 

Day 7

Friday 28th October

  1. David Hughes, Chief Executive, AoC: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and FE Colleges 
  2. Jane Hickie, Chief Executive, AELP: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Independent Training Providers 

Day 8

Saturday 29th October

  1. Susan Pember, Policy Director, HOLEX: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Adult Education Providers 
  2. Martin Jones, Vice-Chancellor and David Etherington, Professor of Local and Regional Economic Development, Staffordshire University: The Cost-of-Living Crisis – The Response of Staffordshire University 
  3. Chris Hale, Policy Director, Universities UK: The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Universities 

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