Little demand for fee loan backed short courses

How many people have applied to the short course trial? Only slightly more people than were in Blazin' Squad.

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

Remember the OfS/DfE Higher Education Short Courses pilot?

In a blaze of publicity, 22 providers had 103 courses approved for a potential slice of a £2.5m allocation of fee loans. These loans are available over a three year period, for any interested student to enrol and access fee loans on similar terms to undergraduate students. All this was back in December 2021.

Providers could advertise this deal from June 2022 (and later the maintenance loan access announced in July 2022), just in time for the direct-to-clearing market. The first available start date for these courses – in line with standard academic practice – September 2022.

How many students signed up for this amazing deal? How many have joined the LLE-prefiguring reskilling revolution Thanks to a Written Question from former Shadow Higher Education Minister Emma Hardy, we now know.


That’s two more than ten.

Approximately 0.11 per course.

That’s not very many is it?

DfE’s Andrea Jenkyns caveats that:

The nature of these short courses means they are not tied to the concept of the academic year and providers have discretion on when to deliver these courses. The department expects the majority of courses to start from January 2023.


we expect more students to be participating in these courses, as they can choose to self-fund or receive funding from their employers for their tuition fees.

We’ve never heard mention of a common January start date before, though I did find a couple of courses from the trial promising that. I also found a some press releases about courses that now link to dead pages, suggesting for a few at least the start date has passed. We’ll get more from DfE on the take up of this fee-backed offer in the months to come. I’m not holding my breath.

If you were remodelling large parts of the post-compulsory education sector around the idea of short courses with fee-backed loans, I’d hope you’d have slightly more evidence of applicant demand.

Or as Emma Hardy put it:

“Access to short courses linked to skills is needed if we are to address the skills gap, and this was the DfE’s much heralded response. However, the first signs are there is a lack of demand to pay for these using the current loan system. I doubt this is the level of take-up DfE was hoping for, and should it remain at these low levels I expect there to be a proper review and the issues addressed. My fear is that DfE will simply plough on regardless of any shortcomings.”


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