Lifelong Learning in UK – The Lifelong Loan Entitlement

The Lifelong Education Commission was launched by Chris Skidmore under his Chairmanship at ResPublica in February 2021. The Commission seeks to recommend how the multiple and varied barriers to lifelong learning can be removed, what future investment is needed to support this, and what regulatory change is needed to ensure the maximum possible flexibility that will benefit learners and deliver on the promise of a whole system change for education post-18. The Commission will focus on how post-18 education and skills ought to be designed so that both higher and further education institutions are valued, but also how the individual learner can be better empowered to make decisions and undertake their learning.

The UK has a longstanding skills problem which is impacting on economic growth. Adult participation in learning has declined, particularly among part-time students, while fewer people in work are taking up training to reskill or upskill. More generally, there is a shortfall in vocational and higher technical qualifications. In this first report, the Commission seeks to recommend how the barriers to adult learning can be removed; what future investment is needed to support this; and what change is needed to ensure the maximum flexibility that will benefit learners and deliver on the promise of a whole system change for lifelong education.


The Government’s proposals for reforming the funding system include the introduction of a Lifelong Loan Entitlement – a key recommendation from the Augar Report. This will enable people to access student finance to invest in the equivalent of four years’ worth of post-18 education, over the course of their working lives.

The loan entitlement will support the creation of a flexible skills system, offering the facility to pay for modular provision so adults can fit study around work, family and personal commitments. It will allow workers to retrain or upskill as the economy or individual circumstances change and enable learning to be built up over time. Ultimately this will be the primary route of funding for advanced technical and degree levels (levels 4-6). The intention is to offer an alternative to the 3-year full-time degree, with more options to take up high-quality technical qualifications, and greater parity between technical and academic education.

The introduction of the new loan entitlement will require extensive changes to the current student finance system to enable multiple short courses, with smaller volumes of credit, to be funded over many academic years. It will need to build on the lessons of the current system to look at the wider issue of fees, maintenance, repayments, and not least the issues of affordability.

The Lifelong Loan Entitlement in England will support the creation of a flexible skills system, offering the facility to access loans for modular as well as full years of study available at higher technical and degree levels (levels 4-6). Government will need to consider both loan and maintenance support to subsidise costs and encourage uptake, particularly among those for whom debt will be viewed as a barrier to reskill.

Moreover, the Lifelong Loan Entitlement will not be sufficient in itself to transform the supply of and take-up of provision. An immediate first step to supporting retraining at higher levels is to reassess current Equivalent or Lower Qualification (ELQ) rules. The loan entitlement must allow for existing graduates to upskill and retrain. Another way to reinvigorate adult learning is to retain the part-time student premium funding and make part-time study a ‘Strategic Priority’ for teaching grants.

Key recommendations of the report include:

  • All citizens will be able to access the loan entitlement regardless of prior qualifications, or how they choose to study, including: modular or full qualifications; part-time or full-time; via face-to-face or distance learning.
  • The Lifetime Loan Entitlement should allow funding to be applied to different modules of learning to enable (i) existing qualifications to be unbundled into smaller units (e.g. 30 to 60 credits) and (ii) microcredentials to be stacked as part of larger units.
  • A more ambitious reform would be to create a unified credit-based funding system that does not distinguish between different modes of study and provides equal access and support for learners regardless of how they learn or where learning takes place.
    Alongside the loan entitlement, Government should consider means-tested maintenance grants to provide support with living costs and encourage adult learners to access higher technical qualifications, particularly those for whom debt will be viewed as a disincentive and a barrier to reskill.
  • Government should: (i) Build on the existing credit framework and regional consortia approach to design a networked system that can guarantee the autonomy of higher education providers while enabling the transfer and accumulation of credit. (ii) Consider reform of the wider regulatory framework to simplify the jurisdiction between various bodies (HEIs, the Institute, QAA, Ofsted, OfS, etc.) regarding higher technical qualifications, which has the scope for duplication and inconsistency. (iii) Consider Scotland’s ‘articulation agreements’, which provide a good model for clearer routes between FE and HE.
  • There is, especially in England, a need to bring together and better integrate the various parts of the careers system: (i) A single integrated careers service is required for all citizens at all stages of their working life. This will need to provide high level, specialist advice, available in every locality. (ii) A system should be established to regulate and support the continued professional development of careers advisers. As a minimum, all careers advisers should be registered with the Careers Development Institute and have relevant qualifications at Level 4 or above.
  • Retain part-time student premium funding and make part-time learning an explicit priority for the teaching grant to incentivise lifelong education and training.
  • Remove the remaining restrictions on ELQs so that available funding (including loans for fees and maintenance) can support those who want to study for a second higher education qualification in a different discipline.
    Government should explore options, including a ‘Flexible Skills Levy’ and ‘Tax Credits’ to incentivise employer investment in skills training.
  • In addition to employers and educational institutions, Mayoral Combined Authorities in England with devolved responsibilities for adult skills should play a central role in the coproduction of local skills plan. Moreover, MCAs should be given genuine power over issues of essentially regional concern. Almost all of the functions currently exercised by the Department for Education could be devolved.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @  The Pathway to Lifelong Education: Reforming the UK’s Skills System

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