I was, to be fair, not much cop as a scientist.
But I did learn that after you’ve set something running you don’t mess about with it just because you don’t like the results that you are starting to see. In any serious experiment it is important to find out, conclusively, that something doesn’t work rather than to keep pretending that it will.
The Department for Education, Office for Students, and Student Loan Company are currently running a short course pilot to see what the appetite is for the kind of short, structured, level 4-6 provision is outside of the world imagined in policy papers. The first part of this experiment attempted to find providers willing to run these courses – it identified twenty-two of these, and offered seed funding to prepare just under 100 of these courses (in time for September)
While all this was going on, another arm of preparation was taking place – as SLC developed a mechanism for approving fee loans at a smaller scale than ever before, covering tuition fees for these courses (charged, pro-rata, at the standard undergraduate rate) and setting up the scheme to allow graduates to repay these loans in the usual way.
Providers are currently attempting to recruit to these courses, with another important experimental finding being the actual demand among learners for fee-loan backed short courses.
Today DfE has changed the parameters of the experiment. There will now be specific bursaries for learners on this small sample of courses. A total of £2.5m will be available, over three years, for distribution to students via providers (having firstly been distributed to providers via OfS). Despite the huge amounts of student hardship likely during the next academic year, these funds are only to be used for students on these particular courses – and then only for the following purposes:
- study support costs such as books, course material, trips not included in course fees
- travel costs for getting to and from the course
- equipment not included in the course fee
- learning and learner support for disabled students
- emergency costs for students, in exceptional circumstances
- temporary residential costs where the student is required to attend a clinical setting
The bursary is for the trial only – there’s been no decision made on any form of maintenance support available for the actual LLE, which is still due to launch in the third of these years.
Why would you provide a specific bursary only for one group of students on a particular set of courses? All students should be eligible for provider bursaries and hardship support, and DfE should really be looking at ways to prime these for 2022-23. The possibility of providers holding this money for students who don’t need it (or don’t turn up) while other students struggle is a hugely problematic one.
The only answer I can think of to offer specific bursaries is to improve the attractiveness of these courses – either among specific groups of applicants who would be put off by the additional costs of attending these courses, or among all applicants. And given the state of current thinking on social mobility, I’m suspecting these courses just aren’t recruiting.