Monday, July 14, 2008

News; Armed Forces 'Get Free Education'

Service personnel are to be given university education free of charge after they end their duty with the armed forces, it has been reported. 

According to the News of the World, personnel who complete six years' service in the Army, Royal Navy or RAF will qualify for the scheme. 

The government will pay tuition fees to study for GCSEs, A-levels, university degrees or other qualifications. 

The measure is thought to be in Thursday's Armed Forces Command Paper. 

This document will deal with a whole range of welfare issues affecting soldiers, sailors and airmen. 

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the Service Personnel Command Paper would "set out a range of measures to ensure that our armed forces, their families and veterans receive the best possible support right across government". 

He said: "It is the first time there has been a co-ordinated, cross-government strategy for delivering better access to key public services and greater welfare support for our armed forces community. 

'Firm commitment' 

"The command paper will help secure continuity of public services in areas like education, accommodation and NHS treatment." 

Speaking on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of defence staff, said he expected the command paper to provide a "firm commitment to deliver" on "disadvantages" suffered by those within the armed forces on these issues. 

He said: "I expect to see a firm plan for dealing with those and I expect to see a firm commitment to deliver. That is what I expect from the command paper and that is what I think we will see. 

"That tackles the issues that our own families tell us are the top of their concerns." 

Ian Kirby, assistant political editor for the News of the World, said the scheme was a method to help those who left the armed forces get back into civilian life, and could save people up to £9,000. 

He told BBC Radio Five Live: "My Ministry of Defence sources say this is a no-strings-attached deal. Basically, the bill for the tuition fees will go straight to the government." 

'Massive problem' 

Currently those serving in the armed forces can have tuition fees fully or partially paid for certain courses, but the incentives are based around retaining personnel. This new package can be taken even after they have left the service. 

Mr Kirby also said if a service member who qualifies for the scheme is killed, then the credit for having free tuition will pass to their spouse. 

A recent Ministry of Defence survey of 9,000 servicemen and women suggested that some 47% of Army and Royal Navy respondents and 44% of those in the RAF regularly felt like quitting. 

Among the concerns raised by those surveyed were the frequency of tours, levels of pay and the quality of equipment and housing. 

Sir Jock Stirrup said armed forces accommodation was the result of "decades of underinvestment". 

He said billions of pounds were being spend in a "long-term endeavour" to improve conditions, adding that it was "a massive problem".

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