Ministers pull confusing leaflet on flagship ILAs

August 11, 2000

Ministers have had to withdraw misleading information about individual learning accounts after The THES pointed out that account-holders had been given the false impression that they were entitled to financial support for higher education.

One expert said this week that the error had already caused widespread confusion, undermining the initiative.

Under the flagship scheme, one million potential lifelong learners have been given an account with Pounds 150 of public money to spend on designated discounted learning programmes, in return for a private investment of Pounds 20. All education at undergraduate level and above is exempt from the scheme.

But a recent brochure from the Department for Education and Employment says the account cannot be used to get help for "a course in full-time higher education". This led some training and enterprise councils to assume it could be used for part-time higher education courses.

John Field, professor of lifelong learning at Warwick University and a former government education adviser, said: "Different TECs are interpreting these conflicting views in two contradictory ways. Some are using ILAs to fund part-time higher education, others claim that no higher education whatever is eligible."

The confusion "undermines" the government's aim of building a lifelong-learning culture for all, Professor Field said.

He said the exclusion of higher education was a mistake. "It is hard to see why part-time HE should be excluded. The only ground I can imagine is that the government has made some funds available to support students on part-time degrees. But these funds are not available to all students and do not cover all part-time courses. This edict, therefore, seems to contradict government policy on widening participation."

A DFEE spokesman said: "ILA account-holders cannot claim discounts on graduate or postgraduate full or part-time courses. The whole of higher education is ruled out. We are sorry that this point was not made entirely clear in the leaflet in question, and we will be withdrawing it to avoid further confusion."

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