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Government plans for apprenticeships over-ambitious in tough times, fears UCU

16 November 2010 | last updated: 11 December 2015

The UCU today welcomed the government's commitment to raise the profile of vocational education in Britain, as outlined in its Skills Strategy, but warned that it could be difficult to turn it into a reality during a recession.

The strategy sets out plans to expand adult apprenticeships by 75,000 places and create a qualifications ladder within the scheme, so that apprentices can reach degree level. UCU questions how a shrinking public sector and recession-hit private sector could provide the jobs to meet those plans.
The union is also concerned the cut in funding for adult students doing vocational courses may deter thousands from retraining. In future, older students will have to take out loans to pay for courses that are currently paid for out the public purse. The cut will affect students aged 24 and over doing vocational courses at the equivalent of GCSE level and A-level.
The union would like to see clarification on the replacement for the now axed education maintenance allowance (EMA) – a weekly payment to contribute to the costs of study for 16-19-year-olds from low-income households. Currently almost half of all students studying at English colleges receive this grant and in disadvantaged areas, the percentage can be as high as 80%. UCU fears access to a smaller replacement financial aid package could become a postcode lottery.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'We welcome the government's intention to raise the status of vocational education but is it realistic to expect private sector employers to take on three-quarters of a million adult apprentices during an economic downturn?
'Many adult students doing vocational courses are in low-skilled, low-paid jobs and will be forced to rely on loans to fund their study. We know from research that it is people from low-income households who are most likely to be put off by the prospect of debt. Some will decide expensive retraining financed through credit is not an option.
'We are concerned that a replacement for the EMA, that is locally administered, could mean that college study becomes a postcode lottery for younger students.'