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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Nurse and Room Leader - Hackney

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a qualified childcare p...

AER Teachers: PPA TEACHER/MENTOR

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: THE SCHOOL: This is a large and vibra...

AER Teachers: EYFS Teacher

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: EYFS TEACHERAn 'Outstanding' Primary ...

AER Teachers: YEAR 3 TEACHER - PREPARATORY SCHOOL

£27000 - £40000 per annum: AER Teachers: YEAR 3 TEACHER - PREPARATORY SCHOOLA ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent