Congratulations! If you are an adult living in England who has not been to university, from 2025 you are entitled (via the Lifelong Learning Entitlement) to around £37,000 of government-backed fee loans to support access to short university courses you can access at any time of your life (well, before the age of 60).
For those of you who have been to university in the UK already your allocation – which is nominally worth the same as four years of full-time undergraduate study – is reduced pro-rata (with different, lower rates for years on placement or studying abroad).
These deductions will be made based on the actual fee loans you have taken out (for those who studied undergraduate courses after 2012) or the amount of time you studied (for those who studied before 2012).
For older (and Scottish) readers
Did you pay off loans for £3,000(ish) fees (between 2004 and 2021), or £1,000(ish) fees (between 1998 and 2004)? Don’t worry, the government have decided that it doesn’t matter. You get the full deduction:
The specific treatment for this (pre-2012) cohort reflects the fact that tuition fees were very different before 2012 to how they have operated since [sic]. Fees were much smaller (and before 1998 they didn’t exist), meaning that the government paid most of the cost of tuition.
Or did you study a four year undergraduate degree in Scotland (as is usually the case) and then move to England later in life? Bad luck! You get nothing.
Three year undergraduate degree plus a PGCE – now looking to upskill or retrain? Sucks to be you. Failed your first year and restarted? LOL (that’s literally me).
Studied using an Advanced Learner Loan? There’s information on deductions coming, but we are told DfE will “provide more information on these at a later date.”
There’s a pending roll-out of individual modules linked to higher technical qualifications, available this academic year and the next one. I’m not saying this is the same as the short courses trial, but it sounds like it. And you get free tuition – except that there’s a deduction of 30 credits worth (£2,312.50, and you have to love that rounding to the nearest 50p) from your LLE entitlement.
Funding just got much more complicated
There’s some changes to the way higher education study is funded too. Part-time degrees and accelerated degrees will from this point onwards be funded at the same pro-rata level as full time degrees. This effectively abolishes both modes of funding – for part-time you access funding as you need it, and for the latter you access funding based on the amount of credits you are taking (there’s no annual limit).
The old fee caps? Gone. Instead, there will be a fee limit per credit – potentially variable based on if your provider has an access and participation plan and/or a TEF award. As we’ve flagged previously, for courses that cannot be modularised there will be a default credit rating applied (eg 120 for a PGCE, pre-registration courses in healthcare, or the first year of a medical degree). And there are different fee limits related to study abroad and placement years – and, of course, classroom-based foundation years. If a student resits a module (30 credits of study, so more like two modules) a provider can claim for existing credits. The fee income is calculated on the applicable credit limit multiplied by the number of credits provided (either the actual number, or the default credits where no actual number is available).
There are, however, “credit caps” based on the type of course you are studying – a provider can’t claim for fees for more than this cap. Some of these (for example architecture) appear to go above the 480 credits available via the LLE and it is currently not clear what happens in those cases. In fact, it’s not clear what happens if a learner wants to access a course that is not covered by their available LLE balance – does the learner pay directly, and if so at what price?
There’s clearly more of this to come – more clarification, more edge cases to be ironed out, probably more tweaks to the system. We also know that there is more to come in the spring of next year on the actual fee limits (the amounts I’ve used above, and that the government has used throughout this surprisingly sparse documentation are based on current full-time undergraduate prices) for different situations.
As Robert Halfon put it in his speech to the Committee of University Chairs:
Truly, I am so excited to be consistently making great strides on the LLE and its plethora of constituent parts. And I am so enthusiastic that this once-in-a-generation reform of our higher education sector will enable people to move seamlessly between further education and higher education, taking the opportunities that best serve their career stage and fit around their commitments.
There’s clearly more than one giant step required.
Notably, we are still waiting for clarity on the specification for the third category of Office for Students registration (for providers currently delivering courses funded by advanced learner loans) – with DfE yet to set out what the advantages of such registration should be for the providers in question. If this is delayed or abandoned it does rather undermine the idea of bringing tertiary funding between level 4 and 6 under a single funding and regulatory structure.
And if you are looking for more on the maintenance offer, you won’t find it here.
Designing a new higher education funding system – and let’s not fool ourselves, this is what we have here – is a notoriously fiddly occupation, and this example is a particularly complex way of bringing short courses into the system and supporting (some) lifelong learning. This guidance should be seen as a waypost rather than the final destination – assuming of course, an incoming government doesn’t pause implementation to sort stuff out properly.