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Learners accessing the Lifelong Loan Entitlement will need souped up careers advice

Sunday Blake argues that for the LLE to succeed, modular learners will need much better information, advice, and guidance than what is currently on offer
This article is more than 1 year old

One of the supposed benefits of Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) is that it is meant to give individuals who may otherwise face barriers to higher education an “in”.

But is getting in all there is? The Department for Education’s (DfE) response to the LLE consultation came with a corresponding equality analysis. I dived into this to see if there would be any efforts to improve adult career education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG). Differential access to careers advice is a known equalities issue – something I’ve discussed elsewhere in the context of care-experienced students.

CEIAG in England has been in pretty poor condition since the Connexions budget was slashed two decades ago by £200m per year – and responsibility for careers advice was put on schools. While Scotland and Wales have a true all-age careers system, CEIAG in England is left to schools, and all-age support is left fragmented.

So my first concern is that if modular learning enabled by the LLE is meant for non-traditional students, who are unlikely to be school leavers or school leaver age, then where exactly will prospective students go for their CEIAG on this new modular learning pathway? Navigating the number of curated university courses is confusing enough, and even school-age applicants report disparity and inconsistency in the CEIAG they receive.

How would a non-school leaver navigate the innumerable modules suddenly available, particularly alone, and particularly if they are a first-generation applicant unfamiliar with higher education institutions and how they work?

Where exactly am I looking?

While Wales and Scotland both have one major – simple and engaging – career advice port-of-call, CEIAG in England is much more complex.

The National Careers Service website is the first step for most. While it has been updated recently, it still looks indistinguishable from any other government webpage – i.e. more like somewhere you would go to file your tax return.

Admittedly, the new Get the Jump section looks better. However, I still think personal guidance is needed, and Chris Webb – co-host of the Career Development Institute’s #WeAreCareers live broadcast – told me that, in his experience, non-school leavers are not necessarily always aware of this resource anyway.

They are more likely to be stumbling across one of the array of alternatives: UCAS (which will soon also include degree apprenticeships), Discover Uni (that uses GO/NSS data to support its HE course search tool), Skills for Life, Find an Apprenticeship; BBC Bitesize Careers; Careerpilot; Not Going to Uni; Success at School; as well as more HE focused sites like

The problem is that many of these services are aimed at school-leaver-age applicants, and traditional demographics up to the early graduate stage – not the lifelong learner imagined as a key beneficiary of LLE. And such prospective beneficiaries may have work or childcare time demands and can not sieve through the various career platforms, as well as no one to guide them through.

In addition to this, edtech players – such as Start; U-Explore; Grofar; and Unifrog etc. – tend to sell CEIAG platforms directly to schools, so non-school leavers miss out.

So while CEIAG Isn’t exactly lacking, it is complex, uneven, disparate, and relatively inaccessible to prospective applicants years out of education. An LLE roll-out needs a targeted, adequately funded, all-age career advice service.

An attempt was made

The LLE is meant to be introducing a Personal Account for all learners, where they can search the Student Loans Company course database and “make more informed decisions about their learning.”

This is great. But all I see proposed at present is an amalgamation of current provisions, nothing targeted, and certainly nothing near the quality CEIAG that their more privileged peers will have access to.

DfE’s equality analysis has tried to address some inequalities and the barriers individuals face when accessing higher education that the LLE will apparently combat. It identifies that the LLE provision could support adults who face “significant financial constraints” that mean that they can’t afford the cost of education, have “competing work priorities”, and “lack good quality digital infrastructure, which makes online learning unfeasible” (situational barriers).

It further says that there is evidence that “adult learners may also be sceptical that further learning will help improve their productivity in the workplace or lead to new job opportunities and further career development,” as well as reluctance “to access them because of past negative experiences in their youth or the or the stigma they perceive attached to seeking career advice later in life.”

As LLE policy develops, there will need to be some serious thought put into designing career advice and support that can help time-poor, sceptical potential learners with limited access to digital infrastructure – especially if they are expected to access that learning via digital means. As things currently stand, the provision isn’t there.

If DfE ministers are concerned about sustaining positive student outcomes in the context of a more modularised system, they won’t want individuals to invest in debt for a course from which they get no financial benefit. And if DfE is serious about the barriers underprivileged learners face, there should be targeted funding for outreach to help overcome the obstacles they face in accessing CEIAG for higher education, as well as higher education itself.

Foot in the door and a bum on a seat

That being said, I don’t think it’s all bad – in the summer, I argued that even without the best-laid plans, going through Clearing means accessing a university’s careers services where learners can access good quality CEIAG – often for the first time. They can then use their position to work out who they are, what they want, and where they want to go (and importantly – how!)

And so, perhaps using a module equivalent allowance of your LLE to have a taster of higher education AND access quality careers advice would not be such a bad thing in order to work out your options.

But – this is only a perk if we are content with universities picking up – again – where the state has failed learners. Really, there should be accessible, funded, all-age career advice open to everyone, whatever the stage in their learning journey.

And anyway, I am also relying on the assumption that a modular learner will have the same career service privileges as a typical undergraduate – something that may well vary depending on the provider. Universities’ plans for the LLE roll-out must consider how to advise prospective students who are considering a more complicated and fragmented pathway- for whatever reason – than the typical student.

One consideration is how long, exactly, would module learners’ entitlement to such career service advice last post-module(s) (the average undergraduate can access their career service for up to two years post-graduation). The possibilities range from a lifelong learner having access to multiple different careers services at different providers and having the luxury of choice, to having to rush to access careers advice before access is withdrawn at the conclusion of a module.

Either way, one of the considerations for universities thinking through how to respond to the new student finance system will be that careers teams would have to pivot to provide careers support for LLE students studying smaller chunks of courses, or even single modules.

And as careers professionals in universities think through what that looks like, there’s scope, too, for some coordinated advocacy for quality national CEIAG provision for all learners.

5 responses to “Learners accessing the Lifelong Loan Entitlement will need souped up careers advice

    1. Thanks so much for this link! – someone else send me across Stay Nimble, too. It certainly seems like some excellent work is being done in adult guidance. I think the fact I didn’t find these when I searched shows the importance of needing a coordinated campaign. I hope the government understand this and there is the political will to implement it!!

      1. Hi, my colleague Sue Lewis has just made me aware of this conversation and I started writing some content about this for Lifepilot a while ago precisely for the reasons you are saying! I had the content checked by OFS at the time to make sure it reflected the stage it’s got to so far. Here is a link to the page I started – will be adding to it as and when things progress and we’re hoping to work more closely with HEIs in the future to provide a platform to raise awareness of this emerging provision.

  1. Sunday, I have been following Wonkhe for a while and I find your writing so inspiring. As a father of two daughters (one at Edinburgh, the other soon to start the UCAS process), I am especially interested; but actually, anyone who cares about education should follow Wonkhe. Since that means anyone interested in the improvement of people entering the workforce and the ability of this country to give as many people as possible a chance to do so, that is a very broad church. I would love to meet you and your colleagues to learn more, I see there is a conference in London today, tickets already sold out (hardly surprising), I put myself on the waiting list and remain hopeful that I could get access, even at the end of the day.

  2. Just to add to what Ruth commented. We are funded by 9 unis in the SW but want to expand our collaboration. If you are a uni and you are interested in knowing more about Lifepilot contact us via

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