Boles in FE loans expansion hint in digital skills hearing

Skills Minister Nick Boles has hinted that the FE loans system was heading for expansion — as the sector awaits results of the government’s FE loans consultation.

Mr Boles told the House of Lords Digital Skills Committee on Tuesday (November 18) the government was “moving towards” making adult learner loans, currently offered to those over the age of 23 to complete a course at level three or above, more widely available.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has not yet published the results of its Future development of loans in further education consultation, which ran from June 19 until August 21, which proposed extending loans to cover some 19 to 23-year-olds and level two qualifications.

Mr Boles told the committee: “If you already have received a qualification of some kind, and you want to update or refresh your skills then we want to make it as easy as possible for you to take out your loan to fund your further learning.”

Committee member Lord Lucas said previous witnesses before the committee had called for “up-to-date industry standard, short, funded courses”, so those who had taken a career break or wanted to change career could develop new skills sets, particularly digital ones.

Mr Boles agreed such courses would be useful, but said: “We’re simply not in a position where taxpayers can fund people to go on doing short courses throughout their working life, that’s just not the reality.

“But I think expanding the availability of the loans system so that they can call it off on roughly similar terms to the student loans is the way that we are moving, but the way that we need to move further.”

Mr Boles acknowledged that the inclusion of 24+ apprenticeships in the loan scheme, a decision which reversed in February — just six months after the loans system was introduced — had been a “bad idea”.

But, he said: “I think the idea of a 35-year-old who’s already got a set of qualifications taking out a loan to do a one month course or a three-month night course to give them a particular set of relevant qualifications, that’s something we should explore and I suspect that will be more successful and will take better.”

The committee has previously heard from Skills Funding Agency’s director for apprenticeships, Sue Husband, and National institute of Adult Continuing Education chief executive David Hughes.

It will meet again for a closed session on December 2.