Students face debt ‘double whammy’

THOUSANDS of would-be students could be put off going to college in the future because of plans by the government to introduce Further Education loans.

The loans, due to come in next March, will mean those aged 24 and over will pay up to £4,000 to take courses at level three, that is equivalent to A-level. The move will also include apprenticeships.

It could affect as many as 300 students at Manvers’ Dearne Valley College, 1,200 people studying at RCAT (Rotherham College of Art and Technology), 1,000 students at Doncaster, and another 600 in Barnsley.

Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey has slammed the plans that he feels will blight many people’s chances of taking up educational opportunities.

He said: “It’s the worst possible time to bring this in. People want to improve their skills but are already worried about unemployment, debt, and how they are going to pay their bills.

“The government is risking putting thousands of people off studying – even the government’s own research showed that only one in 10 said they would definitely still do their course if they had to take out a loan.”

He continued: “This is a misguided attack on aspiration and the government is putting up barriers for people who are trying to get on.”

Mr Healey said women would be among those who are hardest hit by the new loan programme.

One of the courses that will be affected is the HE Access, a route to university for those who missed out first time round or who are from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

And around seven out of 10 people enrolling on HE Access courses are women, Mr Healey pointed out. Many of these could be returning to their studies after having a family.

There is also a fear that these students will face a ‘double whammy’ – by accruing significant debts even before they reach university, where they will face tripled tuition fees.

Mr Healey added: “I know that local college principals are extremely concerned about the impact of these loans, particularly at a time when the government has already cut Further Education funding by 25 per cent.

“The government needs to think again and look properly at the effect this will have on colleges and learners.”

Under the new scheme loans will be taken out on the same basis as those available to university students. Loan repayment will start following a course completion if income is above £21,000 and at a rate of nine per cent of income.

Interest will be charged at a rate linked to the Retail Price Index and the loan will be written off after 30 years.