Post-18 education review: Introduce a ‘lifelong learning loan allowance’

The government should introduce a “lifelong learning loan allowance” at levels 4, 5 and 6 for adults without a degree, a major review of post-18 education has said.

An independent panel, led by Philip Augar (pictured), will today publish its long-awaited findings and recommendations which aim to create a more “joined-up system” and fix the funding imbalances between HE and FE.

It includes a host of views that’ll be welcomed by the FE sector, including proposals of an increased base rate of funding and an additional £1 billion capital investment over the coming spending review period.

The report seeks to rebuild further education

The report also calls on the government to scrap advanced learning loans for those aged 24 and over studying their first full level 2 and 3 qualifications.

One of the report’s main recommendations is for an individual “lifelong” entitlement to student finance. This is proposed to be set as a financial amount equivalent to four years’ full-time undergraduate degree funding: £30,000, under the panel’s recommended fee cap of £7,500 per year.

It could be used for vocational or academic courses from levels 4 to 6 at any stage of an adult’s career for full and part-time students.

To “encourage” retraining, flexible and “second chance” learning, it was recommended that this should be available “in modules where required”.

Under these arrangements, Augar’s report said individuals would be able to “work, move on or move up, and still have the opportunity to return to study later, using any outstanding loan allowance, and in the subjects, and at the levels, that suit their careers”.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, told FE Week the recommendation to make first full level 2 and 3 qualifications fully funded regardless of age is “fantastic news because for many it will do away with advanced learning loans that have not been successful”.

“It puts everyone on the same footing to wanting to learn about level 3, whether they go to college or university, the funding the maintenance the support is there,” he added.

Explaining why an individual “lifelong” entitlement is needed, Augar’s report said: “Overall, we believe that introducing a flexible lifetime loan allowance would make a fundamental and positive difference to the relative attractions of part-time, adult, and level 4/5 study, and would strongly encourage young people to think about their higher education in terms of a lifetime of employment.

“A lifetime loan allowance would also ensure that there are new incentives for borrowers both to be price-sensitive, and to take a loan for only part of their current fees, thus retaining some entitlement for future years, should they need it.”

The Augar review, which had a panel of five members including Blackpool and the Fylde College boss Bev Robinson, was first announced by the Prime Minister Theresa May in February 2018. Its report was supposed to be released in early 2019 but it got delayed because of Brexit.

It was first thought that the findings would act as final decisions and be implemented in the government’s upcoming spending review, but they’ll now only be treated as recommendations.

Theresa May

May will deliver a speech this morning in response to the post-18 education review, in which she is expected to say that the country must “significantly increase support for further education”.

A Number 10 spokesperson said despite the government “boosting education or training places for every 16 to 19-year old, rolling out T-levels, and creating high-quality apprenticeships”, the outgoing Prime Minister will say “more must be done for the 50 per cent of young people who do not go to university”.

Augar said the report’s proposals seek to “rebuild further education, for too long the Cinderella sector, and see technical and vocational education as a means of addressing the country’s skills gap”.

“We are firmly of the view that post-18 education should be a lifelong experience available to all, irrespective of age, situation or income,” he added. “Our proposals are intended to create such a system.”

Education secretary Damian Hinds said the report “acknowledges fully the key truth that our further education colleges also play a vital role in performing these functions” and “too often we have had in our country a bias towards higher education”.

Hughes said the “narrative” of the Augar review was just as “significant” as the recommendations.

“What it is saying is for too long the system have been focused on people going to do master degrees and neglected the interested and needs of more than half of the population,” he told FE Week.

But shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “The report alone does nothing to address the burning injustices facing our education system.

“With no formal government response, no extra funding and no guarantee that the recommendations will be implemented by her successor the Augar review epitomises May’s legacy as Prime Minister and this shambolic Tory government; all talk, empty promises and very little action.”

AELP chief executive Mark Dawe said the “bias towards the ‘public sector’ college infrastructure” was to be expected in the Augar report, but “there needs to be careful consideration as to where the real returns come from at all levels – classroom and workshop based learning  or work based education and training, where the report recognises independent training providers have real strength”.

You can read the full report here.