Offering a Lifetime Skills Guarantee – FE News

The UK government has pledged to deliver a ‘Lifetime Skills Guarantee’ – a commitment to provide every adult with the training and education they need throughout their lives. Two major policies underpin this ambitious goal: (i) an increase in public spending to support currently low-skilled adults and (ii) the relaxation of the student funding system after 18 years of age. In this article, we summarize the analysis of our recent report on the impact of these reforms.

£900m for adult education and skills

In last year’s spending review, the government allocated an additional £900m of spending on adult education and learning in 2024-25 compared to 2019-20. However, this extra money must be seen in the context of a decade of declining adult education spending. Over the past decade, total spending on adult education and learning has fallen by 38%. Even with the £900million extra spending on skills in 2024-25, the steep spending cuts over the previous decade mean this will only restore spending to 2015 levels, 25% lower than 2010 spending. Therefore, the government’s spending plans are only partially reversing previous cuts.

Total expenditure on adult education and learning (actual and projected for 2024-2025)

Source: Figure 3.1 of “Adult Education: Past, Present and Future”

Potential Value of Additional Expenditure

This money should be spent on a range of different programs that will mainly benefit adults looking for basic skills or low-level qualifications, including:

  • £550m to partially restore public funding for adults achieving their first full Level 3 qualifications, new skills boot camps and other adult education funding reforms;
  • £170m increase in learning funding by 2024-25;
  • £190million for a new program called ‘Multiplier’ to improve numeracy skills across the UK.

We have good evidence of the potential impact of increased funding for Level 3 qualifications, a more traditional form of adult education. UK data suggests that additional qualifications at Level 3 can improve adult earnings by around 9%. We also have excellent evidence from Norway, which attempted a reform similar to the Lifetime Skills Guarantee in the 2000s by providing funding for adults to return to education later in life in order to obtain school-level qualifications. A recent study found that this reform significantly improved outcomes for high school dropouts, especially for women. The researchers estimate that full-time employment was 6.5% higher among women who benefited from the reform and that they were also much more likely to pursue higher education.

Additional funding for Skills Boot Camps and the “Multiply” program is a bit different as they are shorter programs, focus on specific vocational or basic skills and are unlikely to lead to qualifications. formal. It may not be a bad thing if it helps low-skilled adults find jobs, but these approaches are less proven and may have less value in the long run.

A new right to the loan for education after 18 years

The government has also pledged to introduce a new ‘lifetime loan entitlement’ for education after 18, which will be introduced in 2025. This will give individuals the opportunity to access funding for four years of education. education after 18 in a more flexible way than is the case. currently possible.

Under the current system it is already possible to access funding for four years of education after the age of 18, so what will the new law change? There are three key changes from the current funding system:

  • Learners will be able to access funding for specific modules rather than whole qualifications or years of study;
  • The funding systems for higher education and continuing education will be unified;
  • There will be a relaxation of restrictions that make it difficult for learners to access funding for qualifications at or below their current highest level.

Taken together, these reforms should give adults greater flexibility in their education. Moving to a modular system should make it easier for learners to take shorter courses, which is likely to be particularly beneficial for adult learners and those wishing to combine education with other commitments. Easing restrictions on which courses learners can access funding should make it easier to obtain lower-level qualifications, such as higher technical qualifications.

Unfortunately, there are a number of unknowns that make it difficult to predict the likely impact of Lifetime Loan Entitlement:

  • Will universities and colleges actually offer modular courses?
  • Which courses will be eligible for funding?
  • How exactly will restrictions on learners’ access to funding for courses at or below their current level be changed?

In September, there will be modular offer trials in some universities and the government is currently carrying out a consultation on the last two questions. Given that the Lifelong Loan Entitlement is due to be introduced in 2025, it is essential that we get answers to these questions quickly.

Summary

The UK is widely recognized as having an adult skills problem. The government has pledged to provide a Lifetime Skills Guarantee to address this issue, which will lead to a significant increase in spending on adult education and reforms to the funding system for students over the age of 18. The extra spending will create more second chances for those who currently have few qualifications and the right to life loans could facilitate access to more advanced education and training. However, the new spending only partially reverses previous cuts and there remains much uncertainty about the right to life.

By Luke Sibieta, Researcher and Imran Tahir, Research Economist, Institute for Fiscal Studies

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