The head of the Association of Colleges has expressed concern over “low levels” of applications for 24+ advanced learning loans.

Martin Doel, association chief executive, spoke out as the Student Loans Company (SLC) revealed 338 mature learners had applied for loans in the three weeks after the new payment’s launch on April 8.

Just 75 learners were now ‘ready for payment’ for courses starting in August, each being granted an average of £2,950, according to figures released to FE Week under a Freedom of Information request.

The Skills Funding Agency allocated £232m in loans facilities to nearly 800 training providers for the 2013/14 academic year. If learners were loaned an average of £3,000 each, according to FE Week calculations, the SLC could expect to fund just under 80,000 learners over a year.

But three weeks into the scheme just 68 men and 270 women had requested a loan.

Mr Doel said: “If low levels of applications become an ongoing trend, it may well reflect some of the significant challenges facing colleges in this first year of the new system.”

He said deterrents included “aversion to debt” among mature students, and the “absence of a national marketing drive” for the loans.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) set up a £6.5m development fund to help providers with loans facilities to market the new loans.

But FE Week has learned that the association set up a survey on loan take-up and associated issues, such as bursary funds available under the scheme, after a number of principals contacted the group to “express concerns”.

The SLC information further revealed that 198 of the 338 initial applications had been processed. Of these, the lender was waiting for final signatures from 116 applicants, while seven were ineligible.

Applications yet to be processed included 91 that were awaiting further information from the learner while 49 were “in progress”.

It said 142 applicants were aged 24 to 30, 121 were aged 31 to 40, 55 were aged 41 to 50, while 13 were over 51. Seven did not declare their age.

Toni Pearce, president-elect of the National Union of Students, said: “The introduction of loans for learners looking for a second chance in education was damaging enough, but that it was done without proper consideration of the consequences or careful planning for its implementation is cause for real concern.

“There could be genuine reasons for the level of applications to be so low at this point, including students waiting for other exam results before applying.”

Gordon Marsden, Shadow Skills Minister, said: “Ministers must watch enrolments and take-up data carefully to ensure that we do not see a lost generation of adult learners.”

A spokesperson for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) said the group remained “concerned” about the impact of loans on apprenticeship starts.

It has sent its members a survey, commissioned by the Skills Funding Agency, to find out “how well prepared” the sector was for the introduction of loans.

A spokesperson for the agency said the results were not yet available.

A BIS spokesperson  said: “The system is up and running as planned, and as this . . . information shows, more than 50 per cent of submitted applications have already been processed.”

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Editorial : Loan course data, please

Well done to the government and its partners for getting the FE loans application system up and running.

There has been much speculation about adults rushing to apply for the loans.

After all, the £280m funding pot for loans in 2013/14 is being dished out to applicants on a first-come first-served basis.

But it appears, thanks to our freedom of information (FoI) request, there has been no rush.

With about 800 providers with loan facilities, the 338 applications in the first 21 days since launch equates to an average of less than half an applicant each.

However, a slow start is perhaps not too alarming nor surprising given the lack of marketing and it being six months before relevant courses start.

What the sector should want to know in planning for 2013/14 is which courses are proving attractive to loan applicants.

Sadly, this information was not provided despite forming part of our FoI request. It was too personal, apparently.

All we can hope is that the Data Service will come to the rescue of course planners when it publishes more data, albeit seven months away, in January. Fingers crossed.

Nick Linford, editor



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8 Comments

  1. lindsay mccurdy

    I think a lack of marketing could be the main reason for the slow take up, a lot of people do not seem to understand how the loan system works, more information is needed so that providers can market the loans before it has an impact on the numbers for the 2013/2014 academic year

  2. The full quote we supplied, for information:

    “Data about the first month of loan applications is unlikely provide a sample size from which we can draw particularly meaningful conclusions. However, if low levels of applications become an ongoing trend then this may well reflect some of the significant challenges facing colleges in this first year of the new system. These include aversion to debt among groups of mature students, as indicated by recent figures on recruitment to higher education, and the absence of a national marketing drive in relation to these loans. Colleges will be doing everything they can to meet these challenges in order to maximise the opportunities for students of this age group.”

  3. Tony Braithwaite

    I also think that colleges have been hard pushed to get their own systems up and running to provide the offer letter required by the loan application process. We are being asked to do more and more for less and less and with new funding methodologies to deal with on top of loans then not everything is going to be in place right at the start. Also, we have only just published our adult offer so wouldn’t expect too many 24+ level 3 applicants at this time. Hopefully, this will increase in the next few months.

    I do agree that there has been precious little national publicity to encourage learners to take up loans; one wonders whether this is intentional.

  4. I think we miss the point here. Whether we like it or not “loan” equals “debt” and this is for many people, and however well we spin it, will remain a no-go area. I shared a platform two years ago with Cathy Walsh, Principal and CEO of Barking and Dagenham College when I raised this point, and added that certain socio-economic groups would be particularly resistant to this. Cathy was in firm agreement with this point and I’d certainly take her judgement most seriously.

  5. Just to get it in context, the Data Service figures on the age demographic of funded learners shows that in 2011/12, there were some 324,000 people aged 25+ studying at Level 3 and a further 30,000 at Level 4+ – so the SLC target of 80,000 cited represents a pretty substantial drop.

  6. Mark Ravenhall

    I think FE Week is to be congratulated for keeping the debate going. My personal opinion is that government does not want to over stimulate the market with a national campaign as there is limited resource available. Sector agencies as well as providers should do everything they can to promote loans and providers have been given cash to do this. It would be good to have a report on what they are doing with this funding. Loans present a great opportunity for colleges in particular, but all large organisations too, to review what they are doing, how they communicate to learners, employers and local communities. It is easy to blame government. Having said that, until we have the full evidence on the success of loans (or otherwise) government should NOT extend the scheme below level 3 or to the 19-23 age group when the Spending Review reports later in June.

    • Lets give it a bit more time. 3 weeks of evidence is not robust. There are people who don’t want to take on any more debt, and there are people who don’t understand how the scheme works…..we know that from people we talk to here at NIACE…….but lets get some robust evidence. Meanwhile absolutely we must not extend this until we have some proper data.

      • It’s a bit of a pain for FE Week to have to do an FoI every month (week?) to get the figures though, why aren’t they just being published? I thought i’d be able to tell from our learners’ application ID how the system was going but, given our most recent one is north of 20000 (and our first one in April was 1300ish!), i suspect this covers HE applications as well…