Student learning accounts imminent

March 10, 2000

Universities could be funded through students' individual learning accounts as early as the next Parliament, a senior government adviser has said.

ILAs for university students could guarantee success for the controversial new two-year foundation degrees, and could facilitate the introduction of top-up fees after the next election, according to David Robertson, a member of the government's design group for the foundation degree and a pioneer of ILAs.

Professor Robertson, director of public policy and education at Liverpool John Moores University, and author of the book Choosing to Change, which introduced the idea of ILAs, said the ILA pilots had become "stuck". He said they should be retargeted at"higher level" learners in universities and colleges rather than at low-skilled, low-income groups.

Professor Robertson advocates a United Kingdom-wide system in which large parts of a university's block grant would be channelled through an ILA, alongside grants and maintenance subsidies. He believes about 10 to 15 per cent of public costs could be channelled through an ILA.

Financial incentives, through tax breaks, could be built into the system to widen participation and to focus resources on initiatives to promote priority areas, such as the foundation degree.

"It is the way to go with tuition fees and top-up fees to open a new bargaining relationship between a student and the institutions. Public opinion would need to be prepared, but perhaps in the second term of a Labour government, it will happen," said Professor

Robertson.

The government has earmarked Pounds 150 million to put a Pounds 150 deposit in ILAs for a million people, in return for a personal investment of Pounds 25, but in pilot programmes very few ILA holders had exceeded the Pounds 25 minimum investment. The Pounds 150 was insufficient to fund significant learning experiences and stimulate further demand.

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