The number of mature students returning to education has dramatically fallen, despite research showing adults who continue to learn experience better health and are more likely to be productive. But why?
Although there are a range of factors that may have caused this, many are concerned that it’s down to confusion surrounding access to funding. Together with members of the Newcastle College adult learning department, we investigate further and explain the types of funding available:
Changes in government funding
It’s clear that the decision by the UK’s coalition government to decrease grants and treble tuition fees has deterred some people from applying to higher education.
To increase participation and application numbers and reduce the impact of the fees, many of the big UK universities have focused their efforts on school leavers. Therefore, while younger students are fully informed and prepared to take on student debt, adults are less likely to want to be saddled with this financial obligation, especially those with existing financial commitments.
It’s not only tuition fees for higher education that is a concern for adult learners. Many are discouraged from developing their skills and gaining new qualifications at any level, as they worry about meeting the costs of courses. But, there are funding options out there that can help.
Access to funding
Following the changes in fees and funding applications, another possible deterrent for mature students is the confusion over their eligibility to receive funding and what options are available – something that is well-discussed for school leavers.
When it comes to college, some courses and adult learners can qualify for free or partially funded learning. This is completely dependent on the type of course and the college that they’re applying to.
There are also other forms of financial support available, such as adult learner loans, funding to support travel and childcare.
It’s possible that the application process and lack of promotion surrounding these funding options are deterring adult learners. So, what are the types of funding and how do they help?
Changes in the Adult Education Budget (AEB)
A new advancement in the Adult Education Budget (AEB) means that there will be a one-year trial for the 2018 to 2019 funding year, which means more adults will be eligible for AEB funding. While functional or introductory English and maths courses at colleges are free, students often need help with Further Education courses. This trial aims to increase adult learning participation and reduce the barrier of unaffordable fees. There’s also an aim to support those in low-paid employment who want to progress in work and their career.
To receive full funding during the trial, you must earn less than £15, 736.50 annual gross salary based on the Social Mobility Commission’s low-pay threshold of £8.07 and on the assumption of a 37.5 hour contract with holiday entitlement. The funding is also offered on a first come, first served basis. Check with the college you are applying to for full eligibility requirements.
Professional and Career Development Loans
This scheme is closing — the last applications will be accepted on 25 January 2019. This is a low-interest bank loan up to £10,000 which helps cover costs of courses and training that could help your career. See an overview of the loan here and find out if you’re eligible.
19+ Discretionary Learner Support Fund
If you’re aged 19 or over and studying a further education course, have a single household income of between £7,800 and £15,000, or a joint household income of less than £25,000, you may qualify for course related costs, which could include the following:
- Travel cost contribution.
- Free stationery pack.
- Free meal entitlement.
- Free equipment and trips.
- Free childcare support. *
Costs covered in the fund varies by college and course, so it completely depends on your individual circumstances. Find out more here.
*Only available to learners aged 20 or over. Learners aged under 20 must apply for childcare support through a Care 2 Learn application if studying in a school or sixth-form.
Advanced Learner Loan
If you are older than 19 and studying for a Level 3, 4, 5 or 6 qualification at an approved college or training provider in England, you could be eligible for an Advanced Learner Loan. The minimum loan you can get is £300 and this is paid directly to your college or training provider.
You may also be eligible for an Advanced Learner Loan Bursary to help with course related costs such as accommodation and travel, course materials, childcare and classroom assistance. Again, costs covered in the bursary varies by college and course, so it completely depends on your individual circumstances. Find out more here.
Depending on the course you’re planning to take, grants or bursaries may be available. If you’re training to be a teacher, a nurse, social worker or work within certain trades, there are often bursaries available for example. For those studying creative courses such as dance or drama, there are often scholarships and grants available.
One huge barrier for many parents returning to education is the struggle to balance education, employment and childcare, including childcare costs. As well as the childcare support available for those who qualify for the 19+ Discretionary Learner Support Fund in further education, those choosing full time higher education may qualify for a childcare grant on top of any student finance loans or grants they may receive.
As we can see, the government and training providers are trying to combat the issue of reduced adult learning participation with financial support. If you’re an education provider, make sure that you promote adult learners’ financial options sufficiently. As a learner, do your research to see if you’re eligible for extra funding.