Grant rule change hits vocations

June 6, 1997

SOCIAL work, teaching and other vocational courses at some universities are under threat because of changes over student grants.

Rules brought in this spring state that any course including work experience or a placement must involve at least 19 weeks' college attendance if students are to qualify for a mandatory grant.

The changes were mainly brought in to cover sandwich courses. But they will also hit other studies involving a lot of practical work. Worst affected are two-year higher education diplomas in social work, which require at least 130 days of practical placements.

Depending on how colleges organise the timetable, this can leave students falling short of the 19-week rule.

One-year postgraduate teacher training courses, which make students spend at least half of their time teaching, are also at risk.

Andrew Skidmore, registrar of the Central Council for the Education and Training of Social Workers, said: "There may be students who have accepted places in good faith who are now finding local authorities saying they are not eligible for a grant. For social work, the implications are that a number of people won't be able to take up their places. This would leave the profession with less people qualifying in two years' time and could severely damage courses."

Mary Russell, secretary of the University Council for the Education of Teachers, said: "This is something we are very concerned about and needs to be followed up quickly. I don't think whoever sent out this information thought through the implications."

Interpretation of the rules varies between councils but Hampshire County Council has started to turn down mandatory grant applications for these courses. Social work lecturers at Southampton Institute, which takes many students from the area, say their courses may face closure unless the problem is resolved. The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals is to raise the issue formally with Government education officials.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said: "We are aware of the concerns and are discussing with these bodies how best to resolve the issue."

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