Advanced learner loan cap is deterring students, college warns

A government-imposed cap on advanced learner loan (ALL) provision is having a “devastating impact”, a college in Oxford has claimed.

Despite a 40 per cent increase in demand for its adult learning courses, Ruskin College has been denied permission by the Department for Education (DfE) to increase its ALL facility.

This has led to at least 10 additional learners who wanted to enrol on courses, including potential nurses and carers, being denied a place, the college said.

The DfE said that to be eligible for advanced learner loan facility growth under its rules, the value of paid loans must be at least 75 per cent of the provider’s 2019/20 total budget.

“All providers must meet a funding threshold of committed learners before they are awarded further funding to take on more learners,” a DfE spokesperson told FE Week.

She added that at their most recent review, Ruskin College “did not meet this threshold, but will be eligible for another review in November”.

A college spokesperson would not reveal how many loans learners it had already enrolled, but said: “Unsurprisingly, we are seeing increased demand year on year, so the cap on advanced learner loan allocation is having a devastating impact on those adults who may come to us a little later in the academic cycle and don’t yet have a loan in place.

“In a climate where there are severe shortages of nurses and carers, the cap is actively deterring the very students that the government says it is trying to attract.

“Although we have been advised that new allocation may be available after 1 November, this lack of certainty is forcing students to rethink their study options or defer to next year.”

She added: “As a college, we cannot enrol potential students without the loan, so this is extremely frustrating, especially given Ofsted’s focus on tackling disadvantage and our own Ofsted rating as exemplary for widening participation.”

In 2018/19, Ruskin College had an initial allocation of £1,240,914 for advanced learner loans, according to ESFA data; but by July this reduced to £1,197,675.

This loans cap is not peculiar to Ruskin: the post-18 education report led by Philip Augar and published in May said: “Qualifications supported by advanced learner loans are not demand led.

“Instead, institutions have a funding agreement with the ESFA that enables them to provide a loans facility.

“The size of this facility is based on what was delivered through loans in previous years. As such it is difficult to increase the size of the facility even if the demand is there.”

It added that this can be “particularly problematic for small institutions which may lack the capability and capacity to meet minimum delivery expectations, yet these institutions are often very close to the labour market and its changing skills needs and are potentially the key to filling local skills shortages”.

Advanced learner loans are available for people aged 19 and above, studying courses at levels three to six.

The number of learners using the loans dropped by nearly a fifth between 2015/16 and 2018/19.

Additionally, FE Week revealed towards the end of 2017 that 58 per cent of FE loans funding – amounting to almost £1 billion – had not been spent since the policy was introduced.