The extension of the Inland Revenue's vocational training tax relief scheme moved closer to the statute books this week as the Finance Bill based on last November's Budget received its second reading.
The extended scheme, planned to come into force on May 6, drops the requirement that eligible courses should be capable of leading to either a National or a Scottish Vocational Qualification. But the dispensation will be limited to those over 30 taking full-time courses which last between four weeks and one year.
An Inland Revenue spokeswoman said the limitations were intended to focus help on a target group of mid-career people who wanted to conduct a "training blitz" as preparation for a rapid return to the jobs market. It is expected to add Pounds 10 million to the existing Pounds 15 million cost of VTR, with a further 15-20,000 participants added to the current total of about 20,000.
Adult education groups welcomed the extension. But Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education, said: "This benefits the already relatively privileged. What is needed is the extension of tax relief to any kind of learning people choose to invest in."
Roger McCormick, director-general of the Association of MBAs, which has pressed consistently for tax relief, said: "It is another move in the right direction, but the criteria are ludicrous and restrictive, concentrating solely on costs rather than the benefits of a well-trained workforce. Why limit it to over-30s when the average full-time MBA student is 28? The time limit excludes courses such as London Business School's. As 70 per cent of part-time MBAs and a similar proportion in distance learning are employer-funded, I doubt extending relief beyond full-time courses would have been as expensive as they think."
Deborah Harry, financial controller of Cranfield School of Management, said: "I am glad they have recognised the difficulty MBA courses have with NVQ, but I fear the effect will be divisive, with people who would have taken part-time courses opting instead to go full-time."