They can assist lower-income students but are adult learning grants enough?

When Erica Hurer-Mackay enrolled on a higher education access course at Bedford College last September, she was advised to apply for an adult learning grant (ALG), that would entitle her to £30 a week. As a single parent with three children under 16 (pictured, right), she was eligible, and found it covered her travel costs and meant she needn't work. "Thirty pounds can make a difference if you're on a budget," she says.

To qualify for an ALG, students must be over 19 and on a limited income. Since Bedford College started piloting ALGs five years ago, the number of claimants has risen steadily, mainly because the grants are better publicised.

A quarter of the college's 600 full-time adult students are getting ALGs this year, and 1,000 16 to 19-year-olds receive an educational maintenance allowance (EMA), also worth up to £30 a week. Hurer-Mackay believes it is wrong that she receives the same sum as a teenager living at home. "I have to pay rent and support my children," she says.

The grants have been available in colleges since September 2007. Nationally, more than 30,000 students have applied this year, twice as many as the Learning and Skills Council expected. The LSC predicts that 75 per cent of applicants will receive ALGs and that it will easily exceed its target of 17,500 recipients in 2007-8.

But Claire Mycock, director of adult-learner support at the LSC, says it is wrong to compare this grant with EMAs. "It's for help with additional costs of studying, not the costs of living," she says.

Providing Hurer-Mackay completes the access course and gains a place at university, she should qualify for a £4,000 annual bursary. As an undergraduate, she would also be able to take out a student loan.

The stark contrast in financial support for adults in higher education and those in further education, was highlighted last month in a report by the National Skills Forum. Mick Fletcher, the author, says higher education students enjoy a more generous system of maintenance support, and are eligible for "soft loans", which only have to be paid back when graduates reach an earnings threshold.

Although FE students can take out career-development loans, they are charged at commercial rates and must be repaid as soon as a course finishes. "Higher education is disproportionately driven by more affluent parts of society," he says. "There would be a lot more full-time students in FE if we had the same generous levels of support as in HE."

Fletcher's report led the Associate Parliamentary Skills Group to call for a single system of financial support for adult learners covering the two sectors. Julian Gravatt, director of funding and development at the Association of Colleges, welcomes ALGs and the extension of childcare support in FE but agrees the sectors should be brought into line. "If people are to have longer working lives and we want them to reskill, why should we put all the support into young people doing full-time higher education?"

In Wales, FE colleges offer ALGs to adults, but they are worth £1,500 a year, compared to the £2,700 paid to adults in higher education. English and Welsh colleges also operate discretionary funds that give hard-up students money for equipment, books and childcare.

Lesley Ferguson, director of Bedford's student services, says it could have spent its £300,000 learner-support fund on childcare this year, but childcare support is limited to £100,000.

In his reply to the National Skills Forum report, the higher education minister, Bill Rammell, said: "Learner support in FE provides help with the additional costs of studying, not with costs of living, which are expected to be covered through benefits, income support and wages."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power