NUS launched its Keep FE Free campaign, the campaign against the introduction of fees and student loans for adults in further education in England, at a National Conference fringe meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
Loans of up to £4000, covering fees but not living costs, will bring an end to subsided education for adults aged 24 and over wishing to take a level 3 qualification. The model that is being applied for FE from September 2013 is that same model that now exists in HE.
Toni Pearce, Vice President (Further Education), said that under the new regime, adults will face barriers to participation and progression, leaving them with limited education, training and employment opportunities.
Toni said: “At the moment the government subsidises half the cost of further education students and particularly for students who are studying for the first time. What the government plans to do is take away that 50% subsidy and ask students to pay 100% of the cost.”
Fiona Aldridge, Programme Manager of National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, also took part in the fringe. Aldridge, who is undertaking research into particular groups of learners that are most at risk from the new policies, said that the Government’s proposals were a high-risk strategy.
“We would support in principle that if you can contribute to the cost of your learning then adding private money to public money does increase the provision that can be offered. However, we do think that the demand for loans and the impact of loans is under-researched, that the policy is being implemented too quickly and there is a severe underestimate of the complexity.
In addition to listening to speakers, delegates broke up into groups during the fringe to discuss how to campaign on this issue back on their campuses.
Conor Murray-Gauld, a delegate from Heriot-Watt university, said: “My mother went to college when she was 27 to study hairdressing, and she opened her own business. I know for a fact that as single mother, having to have a part-time job, she wouldn’t have gone to college because of the debt she would have to take on after graduating.”
Alice Nee, from City and Islington College, said that on her campus they had already began campaigning to stop the loans and fees.
“We have already contacted both our MPs for the North and South of Islington and asked for a meeting.
“I am also a student governor and am going to work with the governors as well. They are very much for having adult learners and when they hear about this they will be very upset as well. At my college we’ve got many over 24-year-olds, we’ve even got a 93-year-old woman doing a course."