Labour banks on credit rating

October 27, 1994

The commission states: "The challenge for the 21st century is to extend high standards to far more people."

Changes in funding: "The present structure and funding of universities simply cannot cope."

Key to this is the proposed Learning Bank. This would provide: Individual Learning Accounts giving people control over their entitlement to learning and providing a mechanism for the sharing of costs between employers, government and individuals.

It would be funded by: * Government.

* Companies. Required to invest a minimum proportion of each employee's earnings -- starting at one or 1.5 per cent and rising to 2 per cent -- on training. If unable to reach this figure they should pay the difference into common provision -- either through Training and Enterprise Councils or by payment into employees' individual learning accounts. Payments to support government-accredited learning could attract full tax relief.

* Graduate contribution. The commission argues that the current obsession with student support mechanisms is misplaced: "It is on the funding of tuition that most of the money -- four-fifths -- is spent, and from which the greatest inequity, between full-time university students and the rest, stems . . . As more and more mature and part-time students enter the system, the proportion dependent on the full maintenance grant will fall."

It calls for repayments to cover maintenance payments and 20 per cent of tuition fees -- worked out as an average of all course fees.

A graduate tax is not envisaged -- repayments would stop once maintenance plus 20 per cent had been repaid. There are three options for repayment systems: Monthly payment for all who reach a certain income. Problem of high repayments in early years, when incomes are relatively low.

Surcharge on National Insurance. Would bring in a high level of repayment, but would trigger repayments at an income of only Pounds 57 per week.

Rising surcharge on National Insurance when certain earnings levels are reached. Relieves pressure on low-paid, but brings in less money.

The bank would work on the basis of: * Equality between different forms of learning. The report says: "Instead of the present discrimination in full-time education, the Learning Bank would equally help people studying part-time. Instead of favouring higher over further education and vocational training, the Learning Bank would fund them all on the same basis. This would allow individuals to learn when appropriate to them, and in the form appropriate to them, without the current discrimination between a 35-year old part-time and a 19-year-old full-time student, and without the enormous division between funded 'academic' leaning and unfunded 'vocational' learning."

* A national credit system creating a "ladder of progression" through further and higher education and vocational learning.

* The targeting of priority groups of adults starting with the long-term unemployed and employees without qualifications.

The commission rejects across-the-board maintenance payments to 16 and 17-year-olds, citing 75 per cent stay-on rates for 16-year-olds and huge costs -- Pounds 1.5 billion a year for a Pounds 30 per week payment. But it does accept that "there is a strong case for a national income-related grant to support the poorest 16 and 17-year-olds who stay on in full-time education and training".

All 16-plus students should be offered: * A British baccalaureate. "Broadening the A-level experience and providing general educational rigour for those currently in specialised vocational options."

* A credit-based system of learning. "So that students have a wide range of courses."

* A review of GCSE. Russia is the only other industralised state with a school-leaving exam at 16.

* Combination of continuing assessment with exams.

* High-status and high-quality work-based learning.

All 16-plus employees should get: * Compulsory part-time training at A-level equivalent standard.

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