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."

Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are...

SEN Tutor- Speech and Language Specialist part time

£80 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff