24+ loan applications up 46 per cent a-month

Nearly 16,000 people applied for the 24+ Advanced Learning Loan in August, up 46 per cent on the number of applications made in the previous month (10,772).

Data Service figures further revealed just under half of the 34,700 loans applications since the programme launched in April were submitted in last month alone (15,725).

Boston College funding and registry data manager Fiona Wrisberg (pictured) said: “The student response and uptake has been positive — it’s been far better than we thought.”

This is something the country simply cannot afford to ignore.”

The 24+ Advanced Learner Loan system was proposed in the government’s 2011 report New Challenges, New Chances.

Before the system’s introduction, the government subsidised 50 per cent of the cost of adult courses, with learners paying the rest upfront. Now, learners aged 24 or over can pay for a level three or four course with a loan, repaid when they are earning more than £21,000.

Loans for access to higher education courses do not have to be repaid if the student progresses to university, which Ms Wrisberg (pictured) said may explain the loans’ positive reception.
“I think it’s actually encouraged people to come and do the qualification, particularly for access,” said Ms Wrisberg.

Of the 15,725 loan applications in August, 37 per cent (5,812) were for access to higher education courses. It brings the total number of such loans applied for up to 14,720 — 42 per cent of all loans.

Association of Colleges assistant chief executive Julian Gravatt said: “Colleges have worked hard to ensure people know the strengths and weaknesses of the loans. Some 35,000 applicants is a sign these efforts have worked in some areas but there are some shortfalls.”

Just 77 loans for apprenticeships have been applied for since the scheme began — 52 in August. The figures are dramatically below government forecasts, in which around 25,000 applications for apprenticeship loans were expected this academic year.

During an FE Week webinar on Thursday (September 26), Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said: “Apprenticeships, as opposed to other vocational training are less tied to the September year… I will keep my eye on it.” Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Stewart Segal (pictured) said the apprenticeship figures were “no surprise”, but called on the government to investigate.

“Apprenticeships are different… therefore the purpose of loans does not fit the whole structure,” he said. “It’s damaging the apprenticeship system… just as we begin to create creditability we are losing it at the top end.”

David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education, said the loans system was “broken” for apprenticeships. He suggested writing off loans for students who went on to higher apprenticeships, as with access courses.

“We have been concerned about how loans would work in financing apprenticeships and have repeatedly called for government to take specific action to ensure advanced and higher apprenticeships remain a viable option for adults aged 24 and over,” he said.

“This is something the country simply cannot afford to ignore.”