Advanced learner loan participation falls for first time

The number of people taking out advanced learner loans last year fell by more than eight per cent – the first overall fall in number since the loans were introduced in 2013.

A total of 109,000 people took out loans in 2017/18, compared with 119,000 in 2016/17.

Participation at all ages fell except for those aged between 19 and 23 which rose 10 per cent – from 20,400 in 2016/17 to 22,500 in 2017/18.

The number of adults aged 24 and above taking out advanced learner loans fell by 12 per cent last year – down from 98,600 to 86,500, while participation by the same age group at level three alone fell by 14 per cent.

Shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden said the figures “underline the bankruptcy” of the loans project.

“We have consistently said they’re completely missing the mark because older people – those who the loans were originally aimed at to retrain and reskill – are are increasingly reluctant, given their more complex life situations, to take them up,” he said.

He urged the government to have a “massive rethink” on loans policy “that goes to all aspects of it, including the interest rate” that borrowers must pay. 

Last year, FE Week revealed that a massive 58 per cent of FE loans funding – amounting to almost £1 billion – had not been spent since 2013.

The shocking figure, which was discovered after a Freedom of Information request, was confirmed by the Students Loan Company, which confirmed that just £652 million in loan-funded provision had actually been delivered since 2013, against a massive £1.56 billion in allocations.

FE loans, originally known as 24+ loans, were introduced in 2013/14 for learners studying courses at levels three or four and aged 24 and older.

However, the overall number of adults studying at levels three and four has fallen steadily since their introduction. Loan eligibility was expanded in 2016/17 to include 19- to 23-year-olds, and courses at levels five and six, but this corresponded with a reduction in the overall loans budget and a crackdown on loan growth requests.