NUMBERS of adults taking A-level and other equivalent courses at Sheffield College could fall by at least 20 per cent due to Government plans to introduce a system of fees and loans, managers fear.
Changes planned for next year will hit 600 people and 360 of those are currently receiving free education as they are on benefits.
The plan is to charge adults aged 24 and over £3,700 for courses, including apprenticeships, with loans offered to cover it.
At present such students pay at most only half of their course fees but in future they will have to foot the full bill. Only students on basic courses in literacy and numeracy will be offered grants they do not have to repay.
Thousands of people at colleges across South Yorkshire will be affected.
Up to 1,200 people studying at Rotherham College of Art and Technology face paying the fees, plus 600 at Barnsley College, 300 at Dearne Valley College and 1,000 at Doncaster College.
Bill Jones, director of planning and performance at Sheffield College, said he expected a fees and loans system would be a major deterrent to unemployed or unwaged people.
“Currently 60 per cent of our students pay no fees and we expect that figure to fall to 40 per cent and it could be much worse than that,” he said.
“We are working to mitigate the effect of these changes and we’re expressing our concerns to Government, while also looking at a system of bursaries for those most in need.”
Most Sheffield students are taking A-levels, job-related qualifications or access courses to enable them to go on to university.
Colleges will argue access fees should be written off if students gain university places, which will result in a three-year financial commitment.
“Most of these students are people looking for a new start - seeking the skills they need to get better jobs and boost the economy. This is the sort of attitude we should be encouraging,” said Mr Jones.
Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield, who yesterday raised the issue with David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions, said the Government’s own assessment was that 45 per cent of learners would be put off taking courses.
“The need to pay the full cost of a course will be a tipping point for a lot of people. If the Government’s figures are accurate 150,000 of them nationally will be denied a second chance. ”
Loans will be on the same basis as those to university students. Repayment starts after the course if income is above £21,000 and at 9 per cent of income.
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said: “We are working closely with colleges and training organisations to ensure they have the information they need to prepare for this change. Take-up of loans and the impact on learners will be monitored closely.”
The Association of Colleges said it had ‘serious concerns’ about the loans.