So, you know how the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is the legislative mechanism by which we reach the modularised promised land of the lifelong loan entitlement (LLE)?
And you know how DfE has been promising to include some sensible information on how it will work and who will be eligible at some point during the bill’s progress through the House of Lords? And that a LLE consultation which has been imminent since May would enable the gaps to be filled on the extent of modularity, maintenance loans, quality and flexibility of provision, credit transfer and equivalent or lower qualifications (ELQs)?
Well, not so much.
Baroness Barran, the new DfE representative in the House of Lords, admitted today that the LLE will require new primary legislation – in other words, another bill – in order to work. But it was the indefatigable Baroness Sherlock (the Lady of the wonks) that spilled the beans:
In Committee, the Government tabled some amendments which were presented as providing some of the wiring in the basement of higher education that would be needed when Ministers unveiled their renovation plans in the form of the LLE. However, since those plans must wait until another day and, we are told, until more primary legislation, because Ministers want to wait for the consultation first, we are left with some big questions. One obvious question is: when will the consultation happen? Indeed, why is it not already out there? What is holding it up?
Baroness Wilcox also chimed in:
The Government originally promised to table LLE amendments ahead of Committee, but unfortunately very few of substance materialised. We were told that they would be tabled for Report, but we have now been advised by the Minister and her Bill team that this was not possible and that they intend to consult and pilot the lifelong loan entitlement before returning with new primary legislation. This is disappointing given that the LLE is supposed to be the Government’s flagship policy and is urgently needed, but it is not surprising, because the sheer complexity of what they are trying to build was immediately apparent to all—apart from, it seems, the Bill team.
According to Baroness Barran the new primary legislation will follow the long delayed consultation – which will cover all of the things described above. We don’t get any indication of a date for this consultation – the rumour had been that we would see it next week alongside the spending review and budget. It will need to come soon – the commitment to deliver the LLE by 2025 (a Prime Ministerial, not a departmental, target) remains.
The new legislation would also need to include the apparatus that allowed for the setting of modular fee limits – something so crushingly obvious that it feels astonishing that this had not been considered already (especially given the fee limits in the ongoing OfS short courses funding competition).
We saw from yesterday’s activity that the Lords are in their usual scrutineering mood – adding amendments 45 (requiring a review of the impact of not allowing students claiming funding to also claim universal credit), 45A (a review within one year, and an annual report, on the impact of ELQ rules on the overall level of skills training), 46 (special educational needs awareness training for trainee FE staff), and 50 (on free education for all up to level 3).
Amendments 53 to 57, on the essay mills provisions were proposed formally by Baroness Chisholm who again faced forensic questioning from Baroness Sherlock (fast becoming my favourite peer) before the amendments were agreed. Of course, it is possible that these issues may re-emerge at third reading – questions on the reselling of essays, the territorial extent of the offence, the capacity of the Crown Prosecution Service to bring prosecutions, and the scale of the proposed fine are still outstanding and a letter is promised.