Every adult should get £10,000 for a minimum of two years just to spend on education or training, so long as they do not already have a degree, according to the influential UCL Institute of Education.
And employers should be allowed to spend apprenticeship levy funds to top up these costs, including on training that doesn’t take the form of apprenticeships.
The money – which the authors of a new report have called a “national learning entitlement” – would be used to pay for courses in either further or higher education.
The authors also pointed out that their plan, at £8.5 billion per year, is somewhat cheaper than a similar plan Labour proposed at the 2017 general election for a National Education Service.
This would also make sure everyone is able to access free, lifelong learning, at a projected cost of around £10 billion.
The report unveiled today said that employers would be expected to support this entitlement, with the government “loosening” the rules governing the way the levy is apportioned.
It “should be broadened to cover other kinds of adult training, says the paper, allowing employers to top up the £5,000 entitlement,” a UCL spokesperson explained at the launch of the report, entitled ‘A national learning entitlement: Moving beyond university tuition fees’.
“The apprenticeship levy is in itself a reasonable idea, but it is poorly designed and the resources raised can be spread beyond just apprenticeships,” claim the authors.
They cite research carried out by the CIPD in January which found a “clear majority” of levy-payers “would prefer a general levy, compared with just 17 per cent who like the current form”.
The estimated costs are around £8.5 billion a year, but the changes to the levy rules could add an extra £1 billion.
The apprenticeship levy, which came into force in April last year, is currently paid by employers with an annual pay bill of £3 million or more, and is set at 0.5 per cent of this pay roll cost.
It’s expected to raise £2.5 billion a year by 2020, which can only currently be spent on apprenticeship training.
Written by Tom Schuller, Sir Alan Tuckett and Tom Wilson, the report sets out changes to post-18 education funding which could create a “broader and more inclusive system” that would “encourage learning at all ages by a diverse range of students”.
The £10,000 they want for the national learning entitlement would be spread over at least two years, and spent on any “publicly provided, or publicly recognised, education and training”, including courses at colleges and independent training providers, as well as universities.
To avoid the “sad fate” of the Individual Learning Accounts debacle in the late 1990s, which was scrapped due to fraud, “the entitlement will be cashable only for formally organised programmes in recognised institutions”.
Any courses funded through the entitlement could be taken over a period of years, creating a “flexible system” with “multiple stopping-off and re-entry points” that would allow learners to “weigh up their prospects and tailor their learning to their current circumstances”.
The proposals would reinvigorate the FE and adult provider market, as it would “encourage and enable other sectors and institutions to offer more opportunities for learners of all kinds”.
“Colleges and adult learning institutes, voluntary organisations and private providers can be relied on to come forward with courses of all shapes and sizes,” they suggested.