Select Committee on Education and Skills Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the National Extension College (ILA 16)

  NEC is a not-for-profit charitable trust dedicated to widening education opportunities for adults through distance learning. It was set up by the late Michael Young, Lord Young of Dartington, in 1962 as a pilot for the Open University. It is now the UK's leading independent provider of home study courses. It enrols over 10,000 adults a year on over 100 courses including GCSEs and "A" Levels, return to learning and study skills programmes, and a large number of vocational subjects such as book-keeping, accounting, IT, marketing, management, child care, and counselling. The quality of NEC's provision is accredited by the Open and Distance Learning Quality Council.

  Distance education is an important form of provision for people who cannot attend an FE college, because, for example, of domestic responsibilities, shiftworking, distance, or disability. Most distance education is provided by the private/voluntary sector. Students in the private/voluntary sector pay their own fees and do not benefit from the LSC funding which subsidises fees in FE colleges. Typical NEC fees are £150 for an IT course, £275 for a GCSE, £325 for an "A" Level and £545 for Level 3 Accounting. Prior to ILAs, the Inland Revenue allowed tax relief on the costs of vocational training (VTR). This scheme helped many (but not all) learners with their fees. VTR was abolished when ILAs were introduced. With the end of ILAs there is now no form of government help with the costs of courses for learners outside the publicly funded education sector.

  In NEC's experience, ILAs were exceptionally successful in attracting adults into learning—more so than the old VTR scheme. 4,729 NEC enrolments during the period when ILAs were available were ILA supported—30 per cent of all enrolments in the period. Our figures show ILAs being of particular benefit to women (76 per cent or our ILA enrolments). Our figures also suggest that ILAs benefited "hard to reach learners" in that 76 per cent of enrolments onto our courses in childcare and early years education were from people using ILAs. These courses typically attract women with low levels of prior educational achievement. We also had a disproportionate number of ILA enrolments from the NE. ILAs have also helped students on our scheme for people with disabilities and carers. We can provide case studies of ILA students if this would be helpful.

  We cannot know how many people would have enrolled with us anyway without the incentive of an ILA. But cancellations since ILAs were ended give some idea. Out of the 204 ILA account holders who enrolled with us after the scheme was suspended, 38 per cent cancelled their course. 36 per cent paid the whole fee themselves. We are waiting to hear from the remaining 74 but assume the cancellation rate will be similar.

  The ending of ILAs has cost us over £50,000 in replacement marketing materials, which, as a charity, we can ill afford, and we were dismayed at the lack of notice over the ending of the scheme. We would wish to see a quality-controlled replacement for ILAs put in place as quickly as possible and as a minimum we would like to see the old tax relief scheme reinstated. Any replacement scheme must give providers clear commitments and planning timeframes. Without these, providers will not feel able to take the financial risk of supporting and investing in future lifelong learning initiatives of this kind.

National Extension College

February 2002

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