DfE permanent secretary, Susan Acland-Hood recently acknowledged significant hurdles along the way to the first delivery of Level 4 and 5 courses via the newly remaned Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) in 2025. One of these is the establishment of a third registration category by the higher education regulator, the Office for Students (OfS) which providers and awarders of short courses or modules will require to be eligible for funding via the LLE.
To be ready for delivery in autumn 2025, the OfS will need to publish the new regulations for this category and set up a process for providers to apply for registration. Providers relying on this registration will need to have completed the process well ahead of launching courses so that they can confidently advertise their programmes. Many will be holding back on planning provision until some outline of the regulatory requirements are available.
However, Awarding Organisations (AOs) are already well placed to act as the conduit between students and education providers to assure quality and standards. Instead of – or as well as – registering providers for LLE provision through OfS, explicitly endorsing the existing role of AOs could open up LLE-powered provision rapidly. It would also negate any additional regulatory burden in time for the launch in 2025. After all, they are already held to account by Ofsted and IfATE for the quality of provision through FE colleges and other centres.
This model is already successful for regulating arguably higher-stakes assessments such as GCSEs and A Levels and could expedite the approval process for the OfS’s new ‘third category’ of providers. This could particularly benefit smaller and specialist providers who might resist the demands of additional regulatory burden.
In addition to reducing regulatory burden, such an approach would help drive investment in and sector-wide marketing of LLE programmes to create awareness and demand for short modular credit-bearing programmes.
Giving existing AOs a greater role in the LLE is one of eight recommendations in Pearson’s recently published policy Spotlight on the Lifelong Learning Entitlement. The Spotlight includes public polling and feedback from expert roundtables.
The Spotlight also recommends launching a multi-channel awareness campaign to drive demand and share clear information and guidance for interested individuals, particularly those who might be hesitant to take out income-contingent loans without a full understanding of the commitment they are taking on.
The polling is clear that adults in the target market, typically already in work and with family and financial commitments, currently have low appetite for loans and low understanding of the repayment terms which vary according to salary benefits gained.
Other recommendations go to the heart of the design of the LLE, for example reducing the 30-credit minimum to broaden access to shorter courses and micro-credentials.
Similarly, the requirement for LLE modules to be nested into ‘parent’ qualifications could be relaxed to ensure providers can respond in an agile way to fast-moving technological advances such as generative AI.
Not surprisingly, our research also concluded that it is vital that support and funding for Level 3 learning remains in place after Advanced Learner Loans are absorbed into LLE. Those who would benefit most from upskilling might struggle to access Level 4 or 5 programmes without improved progression pathways from Levels 1 to 3.
Many respondents also emphasised that the success of LLE hinges on the seamless transfer of credits between different providers. Questions about the value of credits from different institutions, recognition of prior learning and the alignment of credit levels have yet to be resolved. This will require extensive collaboration between providers.
The requirement for standardised transcripts for all LLE-funded modules offers a unique opportunity to reimagine how we record learners’ journeys. Using digital skills wallets and blockchain technology could create dynamic and coherent records of individuals’ educational achievements.
This innovation would meet with the public’s desire for tangible and secure certifications and ensures that learners can showcase their incremental learning to employers and for progression to further learning.
LLE represents a genuinely pivotal shift in how individuals will access education throughout their lives. Such changes are, of course, complex. We hope our recommendations are a step towards overcoming the early hurdles, and look forward to working with the sector to unlock LLE’s full potential.