LLE quietly delayed

DfE decides to blame SLC, sector for the need for a slower rollout

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

If you are a prospective learner (whether that’s a mid-career retrainer or a keen young adult) you are surely waiting, breathlessly, for the launch of the government’s Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE).

The initial intention was a full launch for September 2025 – with all learners able to access the full range of courses (from full degrees to bite-sized 30 credit tasters) via a “bank account” like interface. Last year this aim was finessed, with initial course access limited to modules of Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs), with everything else (degrees, short courses, and former advanced learner loan supported provision) coming on stream for 2027.

Now we learn that although you can apply for the HTQ module of your dreams from September 2025, the LLE will only cover courses starting in January 2026 and beyond. So, if you consider that most mainstream applications happen in September, we get a 2025 soft launch (dealing with January starts only) leading up to the first full cycle starting September 2026.

There will be more courses added in 2026-27, leading up to the full (LLE only) launch for the 2027-28 academic year – at which point advance learner loans will cease and the full panoply of higher education modules will enter the system (technically, all applications to HE to traditional undergraduate courses from 2025 are going to go through the LLE system, but even if it is running in time there will be no practical difference to what happens now.

Predictions that the LLE is never actually going to happen are two-a-penny in the sector. Even though both main UK political parties are nominally in favour of the approach, it looks like technical debt (and, frankly, a disturbing lack of interest from applicants) will lead at least to delays. And the longer we wait, the easier it would be to scrap.

I’ve asked DfE what is going on, and will update as soon as I hear.

Updated 5pm.

I heard back from DfE, and a spokesperson told me:

We remain committed to rolling out the Lifelong Learning Entitlement in academic year 2025/26 and we believe that this phased approach is the best way to deliver for learners, providers and the existing student-finance system. he journey towards the LLE’s introduction is ambitious and we want  the Student Loans Company and providers to have the preparation time they need to adapt their systems to be ready for launch.

Meanwhile over on FE Week our current minister Luke Hall is quoted as saying:

Having worked closely with the SLC on the delivery of its new LLE application and payments system, the government understands the great challenge of changing finance systems whilst at all costs ensuring a seamless transition for learners and providers

So DfE has clearly decided that the issues the Student Loans Company are facing (as we reported back in December) are larger than they initially suspected, and have perhaps noticed the knock on effect that a complete change in funding mechanism will have on other sector systems. A trial period does make sense – something that has been screamingly obvious for quite some time – and if we are going to launch this thing it is better to be clear that it actually works and is deliverable. There’s supposedly a provider briefing on the way, and more technical consultations to come.

None of which really makes us any more or less sure whether any of this will actually happen, of course.

4 responses to “LLE quietly delayed

  1. Not good news for flexible learning though even if you are sceptical about the demand for standalone modular funding – especially if it heralds further delays or even a complete rethink of the reforms by the next government. The LLE is about far more than just that with several other improvements being made to the funding system: credit-based fee limits, the end of ELQ rules and the one-year residual loan entitlement for existing graduates are all significant improvements to the current system

  2. Could be good or bad for anyone looking to start e.g. a second part-time STEM degree in September 2025, given we still don’t know what courses will be eligible for “additional entitlement” under the LLE (the consultation said that would be published alongside the residual entitlement calculation in Autumn 2023 but still is nowhere to be seen).

  3. Peter has it spot on – its not just about standalone courses but scrapping the pernicious ELQ rule and having credit based fee limits. However we do need more information on maintenance support. That is essential to making much of this work.

  4. Given that the DfE has still not made policy decisions critical to the design of the system, then think we need to be clear where the buck stops. It will be September 26 at the earliest, just in time for in year HESA returns

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