We still don’t know how the LLE will work

Sorry. It's all still vague.

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

The Department for Education has returned once again to the question of how the Lifelong Learning Entitlement will actually work in practice.

There’ll be more updates to the formal “impact assessment” alongside the first of the big pieces of secondary legislation that will make the LLE work. In the interim, we are offered an “information request” concerning some of the assumptions made about costs and benefits.

The “information request” title, somewhat confusingly, denotes that this is a consultation – a fact that I am sure that DfE will be keen to publicise in accordance with the Cabinet Office published best practice as soon as they’ve finished firefighting the latest consequences of Gillian Keegan speaking in public.

Now, the absolute best way to find out more about the long-term costs and benefits of a new way of supporting learners would be to run some kind of a trial. Somewhat unsurprisingly (for those of us following the debates) the ongoing Short Course Trial doesn’t merit a mention. What this means is that anything on the benefits side of the equation is based on little more than wishful thinking. So DfE has imagined (there really is no better word):

  • Removing Equivalent or Lower Qualification (ELQ) rules will have a large impact on enrolment.
  • The introduction of a personal account with associated advice and guidance will have a moderate influence on enrolment
  • The availability of maintenance loans will also have a moderate influence on enrolment.
  • Learners will gradually move away from full-time degrees to more flexible study, including the modular study offered via the LLE, and this effect will increase in time.
  • An eligibility age cap at 60 years old will have a small negative impact on enrolment.

What about costs?

C/W: This next section includes an assumption about the ease of manipulating data on SLC systems that some readers may find disturbing.

What do institutions have to do about the LLE? Well as soon as I find out, I’ll write an article about it and you can read it – which will just about fill the 30 minutes that apparently one senior manager will take to get across the whole thing.

There’s a huge administrative overhead to turning existing courses into stand-alone modules. Academics will need to assess the suitability of each course and take steps to convert it to work as a smaller stand-alone unit of learning. You’ll be fascinated to learn that the DfE “reckon” is that this will take one academic three hours per course, and that one “clerical” member of professional services staff will take the same time to make it all work in terms of timetabling and resourcing, and then to log the course information with the Student Loans Company.

That’s not the end of the student record fun – we need to collect, analyse, and record a whole different world of data to calculate fee limits and this needs to be done even before the course launches. Never mind, it will only take our doughty member of “clerical” staff an hour to do this, with 10 minutes of oversight from a senior official to make sure they don’t just write random numbers into a spreadsheet. Of course, DfE estimates that half of all providers will have guessed what these requirements are and implemented them anyway – the remainder might need a new IT system (so soon after Data Futures!) and this might cost an average of £100,000.

What next? Well you might want to advertise the course (even DfE agrees these courses need to be advertised and that the costs are “relatively important”). However, the assumption here is that this will be paid for by a “portion of fee income” generated by the first cohort of learners who (I suppose) will have to find out about the course by ringing up on the off-chance.

Add in a benefits of LLE section based on the Institute for Fiscal Studies work on lifetime benefits for traditional higher education and a handwaving OECD report on microcredentials and the whole document has the kind of “will this do” vibe that we generally get from the LLE – a great idea that looks set to be let down by poor quality planning.

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