Mid-year allocation of L4-5 OfS funding

A whistlestop tour through government skills policy, by means of a very small OfS funding allocation

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

Okay, so this is a tiny allocation (York St John University gets an astonishing £258, for example) but it illustrates a number of important policy points.

Last March’s funding letter saw the Secretary of State ask the Office for Students to allocate £16m to providers with eligible students on level 4 and 5 qualifications, to include an additional top-up for students on Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs). Apparently there is:

growing employer demand for skills at these levels, and level 4 and 5 courses lead to earnings that can be similar or in some cases better than degree-level study. Courses are also shorter and cheaper than degrees, representing good value for money for the investment made by learners and taxpayers

If you’ve briefly let the existence of HTQs slip from your mind these are the new employer-approved technical qualifications that will eventually replace many other L4 and L5 qualifications (the old Higher National Diplomas (HND) and Higher National Certificates (HNC), the top end of the BTEC range, foundation degrees, and so forth will all either perish or become HTQs). As of this (2023-24) academic year these are available in “construction design and build” and “health and science” flavours, with a bunch of others – “business and administration”, “education and early years”, “engineering and manufacturing”, “legal, finance, and accounting” – coming on stream in September. Thus far DfE has chucked £117m at setting these up – the Open University got £10m to help FE colleges set up HTQs for instance – and this allocation forms a chunk of that wider effort. There was £8m in this pot for 2022-23.

HTQ modules are also the only modules that will be accessible via the Lifelong Learning Entitlement until 2027 at the earliest – when the scheme is scheduled to go online in 2025 a further six subject areas will be added to the above. To help drive participation, DfE has allocated a further £5m for the tuition fees of anyone opting to do an HTQ module before 2025 (the fees get taken off the putative LLE entitlement), plus £20,000 per provider for “information and guidance for learners”.

The government, in short, really really wants people to do HTQ courses.

As only a few (813 individual courses at 158 providers across HE and FE) of them currently exist, this allocation also extends to other Level 4 and 5 qualifications. But because HTQs are so amazing, the OfS allocates double the funding per student (FTE) for those on HTQ courses as compared to other qualifications. You may think this is utterly arbitrary, ignores the real cost of provision, and skews the allocation towards a supporting a very small number of subject areas. It is and it does.

Keen Wonkhe readers will be ahead of me at this point, but this all assumes we have any idea how many students are doing these (or indeed, any) courses at a given provider, or will actually turn out to be fundable (complete the year or course). We, of course, do not.

Changes to the way HESES data is collected, and the general student number confusion resulting from the Data Futures debacle, means OfS calculates estimated FTE completion with reference to last year’s (2022) HESES data – applying completion proportions to the 2023 figures. As delicately as possible these calculations are subject to “representations” from providers (who, after having the burden of calculating estimated FTE completion removed with great fanfare this time round, now get to do it again anyway in order to check OfS’ sums). Today’s £11m formula capital allocation also uses 2021-22 HESA student data, if you are wondering just how much of a mess all this is.

New for this year in HESES is the ability to flag the number of students doing HTQs (as opposed to other, less worthy qualifications) – the first year of any field is of suspect quality so you’d better believe that this is also up for “representation” given the impact it has on these allocations (small beer for many, but a big deal for HE in FE providers). OfS has published this Section C field in table 5 the HESES open data collection. It’s not especially impressive.

[Full screen]

The allocations themselves are not quite as interesting as the policy, but it is notable that FE colleges, alternative providers, and the Open University are big players in this kind of provision.

[Full screen]

As a bit of extra information, we can see via DfE data who is involved in the delivery of the current crop of HTQs – here I’ve shown where providers are OfS registered.

[Full screen]

Leave a Reply