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Mature Students: Finance

Volume 463: debated on Monday 1 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (1) which European legislation regulates the provision by local authorities of age-related subsidies for educational courses; and what assessment he has made of the effects of such legislation; (154843)

(2) whether local authorities may put in place age-related subsidies for educational courses at institutes of further and higher education; and if he will make a statement on lifelong learning.

The Government believe that learning should serve the needs of the whole community. That is why we are committed to reducing barriers to learning, sustaining equal opportunities and ensuring a wide range of suitable learning opportunities in every area, for learners of all ages, including older people within and outside the workforce.

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 implement the age strand of the EU Equal Treatment Directive 2000/78. Comprehensive information on the impact of the new regulations is not available.

As I said in my written statement to the House on 16 May 2007, Official Report, column 35WS, the age regulations do not bar providers from giving fee discounts, but they do require that such positive action can be objectively justified. Guidance on the regulations is available on the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform website. It makes it clear that age-related practices, such as age-related fee concessions, may be objectively justified where they are a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. That judgment can only be made by the individual provider in the light of local circumstances, the courses they offer and their own legal advice.

Those learners receiving a means-tested benefit, including those in receipt of Pension (Guarantee) Credit, will continue to benefit from free tuition on publicly-funded courses. Learners of any age will continue to have access to literacy and numeracy courses, as well as free tuition to undertake a first full level 2 qualification (ESOL provision is free only to learners who can prove they are on income related benefits).