The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has published a research paper detailing how learners feel about the upcoming “24+ Advanced Learning Loans” policy.

The research, carried out by TNS BMRB, found that 74 per cent of learners aged 23 or above said “they at least might take a course” at level 3, while more than half (58 per cent) said they would consider taking out an FE loan to fund it.

The research included 18 focus groups, consisting of four people each, as well as an online survey completed by 405 “likely future learners” aged 23 and above.

A PowerPoint presentation released by the Department says each group was presented with FE loans “cold” in order to stimulate criticism.

“This created worry about costs, debt, impact on poorer groups,” the presentation reads.

“Associated with bank loans and credit with heavy, inflexible, high rates of interest.”

However, the Department says their opinions changed once the scheme was explained to them in-depth.

“Most felt they would not be put off after understanding the full details, although those aged over 40 and seeking a route back into the labour market were still negative.”

A further 18 group discussions, which consisted of eight people, and two mini groups of four people were used to complete the study.

The Department has concluded that FE loans “do not appear a strong deterrent to participation”, and will be successful if the policy is communicated well.

“The core questions people had (income threshold, repayment levels, eligibility) need to be answered upfront as early as possible, alongside the reassurance that repayments cease
when income dips below the threshold,” the research report states.

“No upfront costs are also seen as a key benefit of loans, and should be communicated early on.

“All these elements can be distilled into a couple of introductory sentences, and could replace the current initial messages that refer to an end to the government subsidy.”

It later adds: “The final piece of core information – interest rates – is more problematic.

“This is an important aspect of the loans proposition, and questions about it arise spontaneously; but the arrangements are difficult to communicate succinctly.”

(FE Week held a roundtable debate about the upcoming FE loans scheme last Wednesday. Read our event report here.)

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