From education to employment

New research indicates student hardship fund needs better management

Changes in the allocation of a fund designed to help the poorest students has resulted in many colleges restricting eligibility, new research has revealed.

And college leaders have now requested more flexibility in the management of the “Learner Support Fund” (LSF), following research led by the Learning and Skills Network (LSN).

Between 2004 and 2006, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) changed the way the LSF was allocated, resulting in lower funds for many colleges. Nearly three quarters of colleges were forced to implement changes in order to manage the reductions; this involved restricting eligibility and reducing the amounts allocated to each student.

Funded by the LSC, the survey was based on a questionnaire sent to colleges, and an email survey of local learning and skills councils. It gauges opinions of how money from LSF, which is intended to relieve student hardship in areas such as childcare and living costs, is allocated and managed.

To bolster the funds available, around half of the colleges topped up their LSF by an average of £30,000. Individual colleges quote figures ranging from £1,000 to £500,000.

While 60% of colleges are happy with the LSC’s guidance on targeting LSF money, an overwhelming 95% would prefer more freedom in way funds are moved between LSF elements.

The majority (80%) also believe that allocations should be announced earlier because of the impact on planning and student recruitment.

Darshan Sachdev, Research manager at LSN said: “Colleges are satisfied overall with arrangements for allocating and administering learner support funds, however the timing of announcements is a major concern for colleges”.

“To help them better manage the funds that are available colleges would like to be able to exercise greater flexibility and discretion,” she added.

89% also think recruitment would benefit if the LSF made it clear to students at the outset what support is available.

Many colleges are undecided as to whether there should be separate funds for say, adults and young people, but 52% would like funds put aside for childcare.

Annabel Hardy.

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