From education to employment

New £50 million government fund for mature student education

The coalition government has created a new £50 million fund to help mature students pay for FE, as part of the service provided by the 24+ Advanced Learning Loans scheme, which will be available from next September.

The mature student fund, as well as the 24+ package, can be used for funding FE courses, HE, as well as certain types of Apprenticeship schemes.

The financial help on offer from the mature student loan is available to adults with learning difficulties or disabilities, those with childcare responsibilities, or ex-military personnel. The 24+ Advanced Learning loan as a whole can be applied for by anyone adhering to the given age limit who have difficulties funding FE.

Business Secretary Vince Cable explained how the fund will assist many adults who need or sense the desire to further educate themselves, for reasons perhaps regarding employability, or greater enthusiasm or focus to pursue a particular career.

“There are many people who discover an appetite and aptitude for study later on in life and want to pursue a university degree,” said Cable.

“These measures will support access to HE students who will not incur the cost of two loans to achieve a degree.”

Seemingly one of the most attractive aspects of the loan is that the borrower does not need to begin repayments until earning at least £21,000, much the same as regular HE loans from The Student Loans Company, although the government is currently creating an individual set of regulations to further specify the rules of play for this particular loan.

Furthermore, if the borrower does not surpass the £21,000 threshold for a period of 30 years after course completion, the debt is automatically written off.

Despite the lengthy 30-year time period, this offer might provide hope for some who have been out of employment for so long, and don’t realistically expect to exceed the upper bound for a long while yet. Even a university degree doesn’t appear to secure higher earning potential in this current period, usually pulling in up to and rarely exceeding £12,000 per annum, occasional freelance money or nothing. It seems all the more likely that those who fit the criteria for the loan could improve their CVs at no extra cost.

Above all, the loans are there to help mature students fund the costly extras of learning, such as books, childcare, travel costs, and specific course equipment.

It is an interesting opportunity for those looking to work on their own skills gap to obtain more qualifications desperately needed to improve their chances of employment. Skills Minister John Hayes is particularly proud of the scheme and its potential to help those in financial need.

“That is why I am determined that further education and the benefits it engenders, should be available for all, not the privileged few,” said Hayes.

“Investing in the substantial package of measures announced today is evidence of the government’s commitment to ensuring everyone, no matter what their age or background, can pursue their chosen path in life.”

Potential pitfalls of the loan seem to be that it replaces grants for this percentage of learners, studying at Level 3 or higher, although those working at grades 1 and 2 still have access to the normal grant.

Also, the specific criteria remains to be seen, i.e. Exactly who gets what out of all this is not quite clear yet. It’s a wonderful idea that anyone, “no matter what their age or background” can pursue FE opportunities, but, as with almost all qualifications, it does not ensure employment, particularly with numbers to the contrary continuing to rise. However, for some it might be a good way to ‘upskill’ and wait for the storm to pass.

The breakdown of the £50 million budget will be spread across 2 years from 2013 to 2015, with 20 million to be given to colleges and training organisations to use at their own discretion, bar some equality monitoring from the government, and the other £30 million to be redirected to areas of learner support.

Despite being in its early stages, there has been a strong 74% response from those saying they might/would/will take a course using the 24+ route, which would certainly work towards fulfilling the government aim of having one of the most educated workforces in Europe, or at least succeed in creating a partly educated nation, if not a workforce per se.

Daisy Atkinson

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