The Lib Dems have pledged to give every adult in England £10,000 to put towards education and training.
In what the party called a “new era of learning throughout life”, the cash would be placed into a “skills wallet” over a 30-year period.
They would put £4,000 in there by the age of 25, £3,000 at 40 and another £3,000 at 55.
Under the plans, the Lib Dems said individuals can choose how and when to spend this money on a “range of approved education and training courses” – but only those from regulated providers and monitored by the Office for Students.
The OfS currently only regulates higher education providers, and the Lib Dems’ announcement mentions nothing about apprenticeships or other skills programmes.
Ian Pretty, chief executive of the Collab Group, expressed concern about this: “The reference to the OfS here seems to imply that the focus of the allowances will be towards higher education courses.
“The fact remains however, that to really get to grips with our national productivity and social mobility challenges we need to be doing a lot more to help individuals progress from levels two to three, or from levels three to four.
“It is unclear at this stage whether this policy will truly provide a mechanism for doing this.”
A Lib Dems spokesperson told FE Week that the party’s plans would include providing appropriate resource to expand the remit of the OfS to monitor a “range of providers and course types”, which were not just in the higher education market.
This would “not mean that these providers would be subject to the same regulatory regime as universities – just that the regulator would be the same”. The Lib Dems have previously said it would abolish Ofsted.
The Lib Dems said the skills wallets policy would come in by 2021-22, and would cost £1.9 billion a year in total by 2024-25.
It would be paid for by “reversing the Conservatives’ unnecessary and expensive cuts to Corporation Tax and return the rate to 20 per cent, where it stood in 2016”.
Individuals, their employers and local government would be able to make additional payments into the wallets. Access to free careers guidance would also be provided, according to the party.
The proposal has been welcomed by Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges.
“It’s time debate in England faced up to the need to help adults learn, retrain and deal with longer lives,” he tweeted.
2/2. Most of the schemes looked at by OECD were smaller and more targeted than the Lib Dem plan (an offer to everyone at 25/40/55th birthday; assuming 25% take-up) but it’s time debate in England faced up to the need to help adults learn, retrain and deal with longer lives
— Julian Gravatt (@JulianGravatt) November 11, 2019
The Lib Dems had originally planned to fund adults’ skills wallets with £9,000, as reported by the Daily Mirror in September. FE Week has asked the party why it has now increased the figure to £10,000.
On today’s announcement, Lib Dem shadow business, energy and industrial strategy secretary, Sam Gyimah (pictured), said: “Working hard should mean secure work and a decent income, but for too many people that’s not the case. In an ever changing workplace people often need to develop new skills, but the cost of courses and qualifications shuts too many people out.
“Neither the Conservatives and Labour have the answers to these challenges. They are stuck pursuing 20th-century policies that simply won’t work in our 21st-century economy.
“Only the Liberal Democrats have a real plan to build a fairer economy and a brighter future. We will create a new era of learning throughout adult life with Skills Wallets for every individual, providing them with £10,000 to spend on education and training at various stages of their lives.”
Labour is expected to make an announcement about their plans for lifelong learning tomorrow.