The Skills Funding Agency appears to have been ignoring requests from several providers to boost advanced learner loan provision – just as applications from 19- to 23-year-olds are taking off.
A number of providers, who have asked to remain anonymous, have told FE Week that they are still waiting for a response on loan growth requests made as long ago as June and July.
SFA guidance states that growth requests should be responded to “within two working days”, prompting the Association of Employment and Learning Providers to demand that the process be sped up.
The latest government figures have shown, meanwhile, that total loan applications made between May 1 and July 1 2016/17 had reached 19,450 – the highest figure for that time of year since the loans scheme started for the 24-plus age group only in 2013.
Just over a quarter of these requests (5,140) were made by 19- to 23-year-olds, who were able to apply for the loans in May for the first time.
“Providers have been told they would get a quick response and they haven’t,” Mark Dawe, AELP’s chief executive, told FE Week.
“We do not believe there is a lack of loans headroom, and there’s obviously a lot of interest in loans for 19- to 23-year-olds in particular, so it is worrying that many of our providers have had no response.”
All the learners who have been promised they are going to be enrolled are just waiting, waiting, waiting…
A senior FE consultant who declined to be named told FE Week that he was aware of some providers who had waited months for news on growth requests.
“Up until May/June time it was a two-day process, but since July I know of three providers that have been waiting on various different growth amounts from the SFA,” he said.
“At the moment what it’s doing is completely stifling the process; all the learners who have been promised they are going to be enrolled are just waiting, waiting, waiting.”
An SFA spokesperson said the organisation was reviewing “a significant number of requests as the loans programme continues to grow” and that it expected “to inform the majority of providers shortly”.
The agency’s figures, published in August, also showed that while there was a healthy interest in 19-to-23 loans – applications for learners aged 24 and above had fallen to just 14,310.
This was the lowest number for that age group, during the period, since the launch.
“The response from 19- to 23-year-olds is higher than I expected and it masks the fact that the applications from 24-plus have gone down,” said Mike
Farmer, an education consultant. “I do think – based on the evidence from higher education as well – it is the case that the younger you are, the less averse you are to taking out loans.”
Julian Gravatt, the assistant chief executive of the Association of Colleges, however said his organisation had been “pleased to see that over 5,000 younger adults under the age of 24 have already applied.”
Apprenticeships and skills minister Robert Halfon told FE Week: “Advanced learner loans enable adults of all ages to gain the skills they need and move up the ladder of opportunity. It’s great to see such a good take-up from those aged 19 to 23.”