Young adults in the West Midlands are in line for better training as the combined authority introduces “full study programme” funding for the first time for 19 to 23-year olds.
The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) announced that funding for level 2 and level 3 qualifications for young adults will follow a model similar to that used for 16 to 18-year-olds from this September.
This comes on top of a series of measures from the combined authority which seek to increase the proportion of its residents qualified to level 3.
The combined authority has also confirmed that it will increase its low-wage threshold for access to fully subsidised level 3 courses from £19,250 to £30,000 from August 1, 2023.
WMCA proposed the change in a consultation which it launched in March to boost skills and earnings in the region. The consultation closed in April and officials revealed the outcomes this week.
The authority has also announced that it will trial fully funded level 3 courses for all residents, regardless of income in “key economic sectors”. Providers and employers in the region will be consulted on what qualifications should be in scope over the next six months.
Mayor Andy Street (pictured) said: “Over the past five years, we have increased our investment in higher level skills and now – following this latest consultation – we are creating our most comprehensive approach yet by offering new learners level 3 training free of charge if they are earning less than £30,000.”
A new study programme funding model for 19 to 23-year-olds was not proposed in the original consultation, but is being implemented following feedback from colleges who argue that under-funding for this age group has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The combined authority said it had been able to increase skills funding on level 3 provision from £4.4m when it first received devolved powers in 2019 to £37 million now, “through a combination of re-prioritising the existing adult education budget” and through new funding streams such as skills bootcamps and free courses for jobs.
Qualifications for FE workers
WMCA’s proposals to fully fund qualifications for the FE workforce will also be implemented following the consultation. In addition to funding level 3 and above qualifications in coaching, assessing, quality assurance and teacher training, it has now extended this offer to include level 3 certificates in employability practice and employer solutions.
More to do on learner support
Changes to the discretionary learner support funds (DLSF) scheme – a fund available to learners aged 19 and over who are facing financial difficulties – will be delayed, however, after the authority got only “limited feedback” on DLSF. Since devolution the combined authority has not increased support funding.
It said it will now consider the “aims, focus and flexibility of the fund”, and how WMCA could support level 3 learners who are earning below the average wage.
WMCA then aims to launch any changes to the DLSF by August 2024.
Cutting ‘low value qualifications’
A series of funding uplifts to level 2 qualifications have also been introduced, where sectors identified a need in the consultation. So far, the combined authority has boosted funding by 10 per cent for level 2 qualifications in the health and social care sector and the construction sector.
Those include qualifications in brickwork, carpentry and joinery, and roof slating and tiling in the construction sector, and level 2 qualifications in care, common health conditions and a course to introduce caring for children and young people.
WMCA is now looking at level 2 courses in the digital and engineering and manufacturing sectors that need uplifts.
It also expects a reduction in “low-value qualifications that are delivered at scale with little progression or economic return for residents”.
In its adult education budget strategy, WMCA also set out plans to make a minimum of a fifth of its grant-funded AEB provision to be level 3 or above. But survey respondents said this should come with an aligned focus on training provision and local job opportunities, and greater collaboration between different providers in the West Midlands.
The respondents also suggested that WMCA should focus on four sectors in the next year for 20 per cent AEB provision – digital, construction, manufacturing and engineering, and health and social care.