Banks like to Learn

December 15, 1995

Commercial banks and policy makers have expressed an interest a Learning Bank, an idea which is being considered by the Labour Party.

A discussion paper which describes how a Learning Bank might operate to provide a modernised funding system for further and higher education is now in the hands of bank chiefs, MPs, and policy shapers with all three main political parties.

But it is through the Labour Party, whose interest in the Learning Bank was aroused by the Commission on Social Justice, that the proposals have won most favour. The banks are looking closely at how they might become involved in the running of a Learning Bank should Labour win the next general election.

The paper, written by David Robertson, head of public policy and education at Liverpool John Moores University, says that public/private partnerships will be an "essential factor" if the objectives of the proposed funding regime are to be realised.

The Learning Bank would manage millions of learning accounts set up through an investment coalition between the state, employers and individuals.

The paper states: "It is assumed that, however the Learning Bank is constituted, there will be a role for the commercial banking sector, in addition to the strategic interests of the state, employers and individuals."

Students and potential students would be able to save, possibly through special arrangements such as earmarked PEPs, and borrow with their learning accounts, to raise vouchers to pay for their education and training.

Information systems, accounting arrangements, an audit and fraud investigation unit and administrative arrangements would be necessary to control and manage funds which might total Pounds 20 billion. There could be ten million active accounts at a time.

The Learning Bank would be owned by shareholders, with the Government owning a majority and a "golden" share. Other partners could be granted further shares in proportion to their investment.

Policy planning and control would be exercised through the bank's management board. The bank would be free to determine its commercial operations, charge rates of interest, offer investment incentives, meet Government requirements, and raise money on the commercial market. The bank would take over some of the planning role of the funding councils and replace the Student Loans Company.

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