College fees will double to pay for teenage education

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The Independent Online

Fees for millions of adults at colleges will have to almost double to pay for a massive drive to increase the number of 16- and 17-year-olds in education and training, the Education Secretary has announced.

Ruth Kelly delivered the message after dodging protesting lecturers at a conference in Birmingham.

More than 600 members of NATFHE , the university and college lecturers' union, demonstrated outside the conference centre to protest over a 2.8 per cent pay offer. They were part of a one-day national strike against the offer, which disrupted about 200 colleges.

Ms Kelly arrived an hour early and entered via a side door to escape protesters. Once inside she announced the rise in fees, saying it was "scandalous" so few teenagers stayed on. Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed the UK 27th out of 30 industrialised nations in staying-on rates.

Ms Kelly told the Association of Colleges' annual conference: "Public funds alone cannot afford to pay for the scale of training required to meet our economic goals. Nor should they." She signalled the Government's commitment to "a new balance of who pays for what".

Under the Government's plans, fees would rise from an average of 27.5 per cent per course to 37.5 by 2007-08 and then up to 50 per cent. A typical access course for adults wanting a second stab at college or university would rise from £500 a year to just over £900. Adults enlisting on full-time A-level or GCSE courses, or learning for leisure would see fees rise from around £225 a year to £400.

Julian Gravatt, director of funding at the Association of Colleges, said that fee rises "could be counter-productive" because many students would not enrol.

He said some colleges which at present exempted 19- and 20-year-olds who were takingGCSEs or A-levels "after making a mess of school" might have to levy charges in future.

Ms Kelly also backed plans to threaten failing colleges with closure. Sir Andrew Foster, the former head of the Audit Commission, had said they should be given a year to improve or face takeover.

Ms Kelly said: "I want to see the back of unsatisfactory provision in the sector as soon as possible and by 2008 at the very latest."