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."

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
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

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Are you looking for part time/ ...

SEN (SLD/PMLD) Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a quailed Teacher ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence