Apprenticeship ‘loans in line for chop’

The troubled 24+ advanced learning loans system for apprenticeships could be axed after just 404 people applied for funding since April’s launch, FE Week can reveal.

The future of the system is, according to an FE Week source, being “considered” by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Latest figures, released last month, showed that of the 52,468 FE loan applications up to October 31, less than 1 per cent were for apprenticeships.

The figure appeared well off target for the government forecasts of 25,000 applications for apprenticeship loans this academic year (by July 31, 2014).

A BIS spokesperson said: “Application numbers indicate that employers and learners are not engaging with loans in apprenticeships.

“We are keeping a close watch on the data and consider the implications for the apprenticeship programme but no decisions have been taken.”

Those who have already successfully applied for a loan, FE Week understands, could be in line for to get their money back if the system was abolished.

Shadow Skills Minister Liam Byrne said: “It’s about time we got to the bottom of why the government is missing its target for supporting adults who are trying to improve their lives, by an unbelievable 90 per cent.

“It’s crucial we back these learners and not leave them in the lurch. So let’s so have some answers fast.”

News of the possible rethink comes after repeated warnings from the likes of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) about the number of apprenticeship loan applications.

A spokesperson for AELP said: “This is very welcome news for the apprenticeship programme.

“Ministers have long said that they want to see more progression within apprenticeships from level two to higher levels and the problem is that loans are acting as a barrier to adults who want to move on to an advanced or high apprenticeship.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has also been a long-standing critic of the system, including through its No to FE fees campaign.

The NUS claimed the system risked putting people off studying and had grave impacts for those aged 24 above who undertake a higher level apprenticeship taking out a loan of up to several thousand pounds so they could essentially pay to work.

Toni Pearce, NUS president, said: “This review is certainly welcome news. We have been committed to campaigning against the introduction of HE-styled loans for students in FE aged 24 and over studying at level three and above ever since this entirely wrong-headed proposal was first put forward.”

She added: “We would urge that this policy is scrapped in its totality as a matter of priority, and call on government to invest in the highly-skilled workforce we need.”

Chris Jones, chief executive of City & Guilds, said: “There were always concerns around 24+ loans, even before they were introduced.

“As we said in our response to the Autumn Statement, too much bureaucracy can be detrimental to the education system, and particularly where apprenticeships are concerned. This is just another example of where bureaucracy has had a negative impact on the system as a whole.

“What we need to see is stability. There have been so many changes and developments in policy of late. All this flip-flopping about with policies is damaging to our education system as a whole and, most importantly, damaging to our learners.”