Campaigners from NUS, UNISON, ATL and UCU seek clarification over risk of losing 100,000 college places


Campaigners have today written to the further education minister, John Hayes, asking for urgent clarification on whether controversial plans to force students over the age of 24 to take out loans to study at college will result in over 100,000 fewer places.

According to the government’s own impact assessment on the loans plan, ministers expect a 45% drop in the number of over-24-year-olds studying at college when the new system* is introduced in 2013/14 – more than double the number previously estimated.

The news comes as staff and students across England join forces for a national day of action against the plans. The protests, organised by the NUS, UNISON, the UCU and the ATL, will see campaigners lobby MPs in their local constituencies.

The organisations, along with the Association of Colleges, have called on the government to halt the new system as they say the sector is simply not ready.

Concerns have also been raised over whether the Student Loans Company (SLC) has been given sufficient time to develop the administration of the new loans system. In recent years the SLC has been heavily criticised for failing to deliver university students’ loans on time.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “The minister urgently needs to clarify just how damaging these controversial plans will be. At a time of record levels of unemployment it is simply not acceptable to slash opportunity for 100,000 people.

“These latest projections are quite staggering and highlight the huge damage further education loans would do to the sector. Colleges simply cannot absorb a 45% cut in student numbers for people aged 24 and over. This would result in course closures, job losses and vastly diminished opportunities for adults and young people who need a second chance in education.”

UNISON head of education Jon Richards, said: “The cat is now firmly out of the bag. By hitting further education students with a huge hike in fees, the government’s own figures suggest that we will see an exodus of 100,000 people from the sector – a whopping 45% drop in the number of students aged 24 and over.

“The fear is that the most likely people to go will be those from low income backgrounds, making the plans deeply unfair. The minister must now drop these ill-thought-out proposals and commit to funding further education properly to help give our country the skills it needs for the future.”

NUS vice-president (further education) Toni Pearce, said: “The government’s own official prediction is that 100,000 learners will no longer be learning if this scheme goes ahead, and nearly two-thirds of those are set to be women.

“Ministers are slamming the door in the faces of adults who want to return to learning and gain basic skills, despite the evidence showing that it would put off many of those who want to study A-levels, apprenticeships or access courses to higher education.

“In the midst of a double-dip recession and with the spectre of unemployment, we need opportunities to develop skills and find jobs rather than attempts to throw people on the scrap heap.”

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