24+ Advanced Learning Loans: a new challenge

For adults (24+) wanting to study from September 2013-14 at level 3 (A-level equivalent) and level 4, BIS will withdraw subsidies and replace them with a loans system similar to higher education: subsidies for level 2 remain in place. This is probably the most significant and challenging development of the Government’s ‘New Challenges New Chances’ further education reform programme for unionlearn, ULRs and learners.

Unionlearn has actually been very successful in supporting adult learners in further education. Between April 2010 and March 2011, 17,701 learners undertook FE programmes through union learning. And controversially there could be impacts on apprenticeships as adults (24+) who undertake advanced apprenticeships will have to contribute to the cost of their study: that is unless the employer takes on the liability (NB support for 23 years and under taking up an apprenticeship remains the same). So unionlearn and trade unions collectively will be amongst the first to see the overall impact of these changes and face great challenges.

However, there is some emerging evidence that it isn’t all bad news. BIS market research suggests that if FE loans are explained properly (ie you don’t pay anything up front and if you’re not earning over £21k, you don’t pay anything back) they shouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent going forward. Original concerns regarding women and ethnic minorities being the most likely to be ‘put off’ were not supported by the research. The research did however identify that the over 40 age group is more ‘risk averse’ and more likely to be deterred from learning at this level.

The experience and evidence of ULRs will be crucial in assessing the impact of loans and unionlearn will have a research programme to capture this. Unionlearn will need to make sure that ULRs have the right information and support to advise learners when the loans are introduced and developing strategies to mitigate against potential reductions in learners. This will be the subject of much greater consultation and discussion with ULRs over the next year. Watch this space!

Key Facts

  • Loans will be available for learners aged 24 and over, studying at Level 3 or Level 4, including QCF Certificates and Diplomas, Access to HE, A-Levels and Advanced and Higher Apprenticeships.
  • Learners can apply for a loan to meet the upfront costs of their qualification, which will be paid directly to their college or training organisation on their behalf.
  • A Learner can be studying at a designated FE college, via a training organisation, or directly with a Major Employer.
  • The loan value will be up to the equivalent of the fully funded rate for that qualification set by the Skills Funding Agency.
  • For Apprenticeships the learner and employer are expected to meet the costs; therefore the loan available to learner will be up to half of the fully funded rate. Loan rates are likely to range between £300 – £4,000 (with some exceptions) and reviewed annually.
  • The Loans application process will launch in March 2013 for paper based applications for qualifications in academic year 2013/14: The on-line application process will launch in March 2014 for study in 2014/15
  • First loan funded learner qualifications to commence on 1st August 2013 for academic year 2013/14 commences.
  • There will be one application for the duration of each loan regardless of the period of study; a learner can take up to four loans, each at different level, however exceptions apply enabling one repeat study for wrong choice, and further repeat studies due to compelling personal reasons. At the end of each individual loan regardless of further study, that loan will enter repayment.
  • Loan repayment will only start once the learner has finished their qualification (past the maximum period of study date) and is earning more than £21,000 gross a year. Repayment of loans via HMRC will commence in April 2016 in line with developments in the HE repayment system.
  • For those entering repayments pre 2016 there will be a mechanism for voluntary repayments in place.
  • The learner will enter repayment status the April after their qualification ends, with interest being accrued following the first profiled loan payment being made to the college or training organisation.

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