The launch of the first stage of what will become the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) was a quiet affair – a simple change to a government webpage, two lines added to a grey box.
These are the loans attached to the provision supported by the OfS short courses trial. In all, 102 courses – ranging from four weeks studying “space systems and regulations” at Leicester for 40 Level 5 credits to a one year, 40 level 6 credits, course on “procuring net zero buildings” at London South Bank.
Each of those courses will be funded at the same level – a pro-rata fee of just over £3,000, linked to the upper fee cap for a year of study. Other, similar, courses will not be in scope for this funding – students may instead dip into their own resources, seek support from an employer, or take out an advanced learner loan.
The language of a pilot suggests that the systems and processes involved are largely settled, and that this is a final stages trial of what all students will be offered in 2025. This is not quite the case.
OfS and DfE are looking to establish demand for this kind of provision – something that you would perhaps imagine would have been done before the policy was announced. Enrolments on to these courses and the loan scheme (and, note, applicants are not required to use the loan scheme to pay for all – or indeed any – of the fee) will offer valuable data on just who is interested in the courses on offer.
Most of the flashier elements of the offer are not in evidence. There is no fancy “lifelong loan account” with a bank-style personal app. The highly important question of maintenance has not been resolved – applicants would not be offered any kind of financial support to cover living costs. But – importantly – eligibility is not linked to previous study. This is the pretty much to first undergraduate level funding available to those who have already studied at university since support for equivalent level qualifications was abolished in 2007.
We know from other forms of adult learning (including the provision of short, online, paid courses) that such provision is disproportionally attractive to already well-educated people. DfE will be hoping that this experience shows them otherwise – a lot of levelling up credibility is riding on it.
There is still a lot of work to do on LLE before the planned launch in 2025. A consultation response analysis (due very soon by usual standards) needs to be followed by some very complex primary legislation that is planned for this parliamentary year. The issue is bound up with the more contentious funding reform issues (minimum eligibility requirements, for instance) that were consulted on at a similar time.
For the many sector fans of this policy it would be great to see more evidence that DfE are ready to deliver. But there is also a chance that enrolment on these 102 short courses could prompt a serious policy rethink. It would be a braver man than me that would bet against the 2025 deadline slipping substantially.