What Labour and Lib Dems can learn from Singapore’s SkillsFuture Credit scheme

Singapore’s example shows individual learner accounts can work and don’t need to wait for central government to be tried out

Singapore’s example shows individual learner accounts can work and don’t need to wait for central government to be tried out

9 Dec 2023, 5:00

The debate around the Advanced British Standard and possible changes to the apprenticeship levy since the autumn party conference season has meant that little discussion has taken place on another reform proposal for the further education sector which is shared by both the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats. This is the idea of individuals having access to their own accounts to pay for lifelong learning or upskilling.

Labour outline their proposal as “the development of Individual Learning Accounts (ILAs), which would share the cost of learning between the individual, the employer and the state – and, where appropriate, the devolved budgets to Combined Authorities and elected Mayors”.

Bringing back a proposal included in their 2019 election manifesto, the Lib Dems are calling for the introduction of “Skills Wallets for every adult, giving them £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their lives; these Skills Wallets will empower people to develop new skills so that they can thrive in the technologies and industries that are key to the UK’s economic future”.

Of course, the last Labour government presided over a short-lived ILA scheme in 2000-01 dragged down by an underestimation of its expected use and widespread allegations of fraud due to lack of proper oversight. But given the lessons learned and technological advances, it would be foolish not to consider some form of resurrection.

Learning from Singapore

Both parties will hopefully be looking closely at Singapore’s SkillsFuture Credit scheme as a successful example of learning accounts working effectively since the scheme’s introduction in 2015. As of October 2023, over 1.2 million Singaporeans have used their SkillsFuture Credit and this represents approximately 30 per cent of the eligible population.

The scheme has three elements which relate to whether or not the individual is in employment. The Lifelong Learning Credit is targeted at working adults aged 25 or over who are looking to upgrade their skills to stay relevant in their current jobs or to pursue new career opportunities. It is a one-off credit of S$500 (approx. £328) that can be used to pay for a wide range of approved skills-related courses, including online courses, part-time courses, and full-time courses to pursue lifelong learning or upskilling.

Devolution offers the opportunity to be innovative with adult skills funding

The SkillsFuture Credit is different in that all Singaporeans aged over 25, regardless of employment status or career goals, are eligible and they can obtain a yearly credit of S$500 that can be used for courses covering a wide array of skills, from technical and vocational to soft skills and digital literacy.

The third element is made up of SkillsFuture Work-Study Programmes. These programmes are designed to offer a blend of work experience and education, allowing individuals to earn a wage while learning on the job. All three elements are backed by a well-resourced Careers Guidance Framework to support individuals in making their choices.

Similar to Labour’s proposals, SkillsFuture Credits allow employer and individual contributions in addition to the government funding.  In 2022, employers contributed a total of S$1.2 billion to the scheme while individual learners or employees contributed a total of S$200 million. The Singapore government has invested around S$10 billion in the scheme since 2015 and has committed an additional S$10 billion over the next five years (2023 to 2027).

Fit for LSIP priorities

The choice of courses is wide, but mindful of English devolution and the arrival of LSIPs with their sector skills priorities, policymakers here should note that for ‘high-demand sectors’ in Singapore, a S$500 top-up to a credit is available and 15 sectors are beneficiaries. There are also other SkillsFuture initiatives covering: digital workplace; mid-career professionals; older adults; and persons with disabilities.

When proposals for bringing back ILAs have been put to central government, the response has not been positive and there are no indications that this is about to change. However, devolution and the deeper deals offer the mayoral combined authorities the opportunity to be innovative with their adult skills funding. They should grasp it by piloting these accounts.

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