Small rise in course costs

Maggie Heaps
Maggie Heaps

FEES for some adult education classes are to rise – but only by 10p an hour, as officers look to encourage more people to take part.

Hartlepool Borough Council has agreed its adult education fees for the upcoming academic year, which runs from August until July 31 next year.

Councillors considered a number of options, one was to keep the fees the same, another was for “significant increases” and a third was for a much smaller amount of 10p per hour.

Education chiefs said the third choice would help cover increased costs and would move towards the required Skills Funding Agency (SFA) fee levels but in a “gradual way”.

Councillors backed the plans, adding even with the slight rise the service remains one of the cheapest in the North-East. A report to the regeneration services committee outlined adult education courses fall into two categories.

They are Adult Skills Courses which lead to a formal or work-related qualification and Community Learning, such as family learning, foreign languages and arts and crafts.

Officers say funding for these different types of courses is set at different levels, but no fees are charged for family learning, family literacy language and numeracy or for learning in deprived communities because they are seen as developmental courses.

No fees are charged for those studying English and Maths and no fees are charged to learners on skills courses which fall within specific groups such as those on jobseekers allowance, 19 to 23 year olds, and those who are unemployed seeking work as well as any other state benefit. Committee members agreed a series of recommendations including:

l Adult skills courses increase by 10 pence per hour to £111 for a 60-hour course, this equates to £1.85 per hour;

l Community Learning courses increase by 10 pence per hour to £156 for a 60-hour course, this equates to £2.60 per hour;

l No course fees charged to students entitled under the SFA guidance on remitted fees;

l The enhanced fee remission policy should be maintained to encourage participation;

l The remitted fee to remain at current levels ie £10 for skills courses and £15 for Community Learning courses,

l Exam fees to continue to be included in the course fees.

It was also agreed courses not supported through SFA funding or other income streams will be delivered at the full cost rate.

Maggie Heaps, the council’s learning and skills manager, said: “The setting of Adult Education fees is a difficult task, involving a balance between the need to generate sufficient income to meet costs, while encouraging adult learners to participate.

“Any significant increase in fees is likely to be unpopular and could lead to some fall-off in student numbers.

“In the current climate the service wishes to support as many residents as possible.”

Labour councillor Kevin Cranney said: “It is always hard when we are trying to encourage more people to up-skill and yet in these dire financial times we are putting charges up.

“But this is an excellent and cost-effective service.

“Other areas have their course fees and then the exam fee on top.

“We need to get the message out that although we are putting fees up, it is still much more cost effective than other local authorities.”