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Maintenance Loans

Volume 623: debated on Monday 20 March 2017

2. What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the timetable for the introduction of maintenance loans for students undertaking (a) technical qualifications and (b) distance learning. (909320)

7. What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the timetable for the introduction of maintenance loans for students undertaking (a) technical qualifications and (b) distance learning. (909325)

It is essential that we support learners while they study if we are to grow the number of skilled workers that the economy needs. The Government will introduce maintenance loans for learners studying higher-level technical qualifications at level 4 at national colleges and the new institutes of technology from the 2019-20 academic year. Maintenance loans will be available for the first time for both full-time and part-time higher education distance learners in the same year, subject to satisfactory controls being in place.

Does the Minister agree with the Open University that the decision to delay maintenance loans for distance learners will adversely affect disabled students, for whom distance learning is the best option, and those from poorer backgrounds, who need maintenance loans to support them while they study?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am very supportive of distance learners and the incredible work of the Open University. We want to offer these maintenance loans, but we want to get this right; we have a duty to ensure that we are providing the right value for money for the public and that the right controls are in place.

The Chancellor, in his Budget statement, declared a commitment to lifelong learning, yet maintenance loans have been capped as being for those of less than 60 years of age. Given this Government’s apparent determination to raise the retirement age and their appalling treatment of the WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—women, does the Minister agree with me, and probably with Dame Vera Lynn, that life most definitely does not end at 60?

It is this Government who have introduced advanced learner loans; we are going to have maintenance loans for students going to institutes of technology or national colleges, and for future distance learners; and we have just announced an extra £500 million to support further education. This Government are actually backing skills and giving people the funding they need.

Britain’s record in engineering and technical training at the moment is deplorable, with our being 16th among OECD countries, so I very much welcome the Minister’s announcement earlier about maintenance grants. Does he agree that the private sector has a role to play? In particular, will he welcome Sir James Dyson’s recent announcement that he intends to open a new technical and engineering college at Hullavington in my constituency, with it being at least partly paid for by giving the students salaries?

I could not have put it better myself; my hon. Friend is exactly right, and I congratulate Dyson. What is happening with that company and elsewhere in the country, with the investment the Government are putting into skills—the £500 million extra announced last week, and the £40 million for pilots in lifelong learning and studying—show that we are investing. We are putting our money where our mouth is and building a skills and apprenticeship nation.

The Budget timetable, which saves the Treasury £400 million—we did not hear that from the Minister—is now a double whammy for learners. It delays until 2019 and jeopardises Lord Sainsbury’s technical skills agenda, and it hits disabled and disadvantaged and distance learners, as the Open University warned the Department for Education it would. With a 30% drop in part-time learning since 2011, why is the Department planning to cut support for distance learners even further, as the Office for Budget Responsibility revealed in section A.22 of its Budget document?

I am amazed by the hon. Gentleman’s question. I thought he would rise to celebrate the £500 million extra we are spending on further education, the £2.5 billion we will be spending on apprenticeships by 2020, or the £40 million on pilots for lifelong learning. By 2020, there will be more funding for adult education than at any time in England’s history. We have a record of which we can be proud; it is time the hon. Gentleman supported us.