Two FE bodies have warned that the low take-up of 24+ loans shows the scheme should not be extended until more is known about their impact.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) and the National Institute for Continuing Adult Education (Niace) both said the advanced learner loan statistics, released today, should make the government reconsider proposals it has put out to consultation to extend loans to 19 to 24-year-olds and level two adult learners.

The number of applications for 24+ advanced learning loans for the next academic year remains well below figures for the same period last year.

The number of for July was 8,460, down from 10,772 for July last year, a fall of 21 per cent.

The figures also a reveal a 21 per cent drop in the total number of applications received so far for the 2014/15 academic year compared to last year — between the process opening in April and July 31, 15,080 applications were made, down from 19,096 in the same period for 2013/14.

Martin Doel, AoC chief executive, said: “Loans are still a new innovation and for many potential students, especially those on low incomes, taking out a loan is a big step.

“Variations from month to month and year to year are probably inevitable and that’s why Government should properly assess how loans are working before extending them to younger students on level two qualifications.”

Loans can be taken out to cover the cost of a level three course for learners over the age of 23 who do not already have a level three qualification.

The government’s consultation on plans to extend loans to those aged 19 to 14 and those studying level two courses closed last week, with the government response expected to be published in November.

Dr Fiona Aldridge, NIACE assistant director for development and research, said: “It is vitally important that we continue to track learner appetite for loans. It is essential for the future well-being of our economy that we have people qualified to fill skills gaps and shortages.

“We need to know the impact of loans on who is able to access learning and what learning is on offer.

“These latest figures reinforce the key message of our response to the current loans consultation — it is imperative that there is a clear understanding of the impact of the introduction of 24+ Advanced Learning Loans before any new measures are implemented to extend them.”

As reported in FE Week last month, the government defended the low figures for loan applications in July (1,270, down from 2,916 for the same period last year), saying it was expecting a late summer rush of people applying for loans, as they prepared to start courses in September.

The number of applications between June and July this year did increase from 1,270 in June to 8,460 in July, however, the rush was not enough to bring applications up to the level of last year.