Budget 2016 – a boost for lifelong learning?

The Chancellor George Osborne focused on postgrad loans and student number controls in the March 16 budget

Under the heading, ‘Lifetime learning, from basic skills to PhDs’, the Chancellor has laid out his plans for higher education in 2016 and beyond.

For the first time, direct government support will be available to adults wishing to study at any qualification level, from basic skills right the way up to PhD. During this parliament, loans will be introduced for level 3 to level 6 training in further education, part-time second degrees in STEM, and postgraduate taught master’s courses.

From 2018-19, loans of up to £25,000 will be available to any English student without a Research Council living allowance who can win a place for doctoral study at a UK university. The government will launch a technical consultation on the detail at a later date.

The Government have also extended the eligibility for student loans to include three-year part-time masters courses with no full time equivalent.

The government will also continue to free up student number controls for alternative providers predominantly offering degree level courses for the 2017-18 academic year. The best providers can also grow their student places further through the performance pool.

The extension of master’s loans eligibility is a good first step and we look forward to working with the government on its wider review – Maddalaine Ansell, University Alliance

The UK higher education system has responded relatively favourably to the plans, which were fairly low key in light of the recent HEFCE funding announcements and further changes to come.

University Alliance Chief Executive Maddalaine Ansell commented: ‘Support for lifelong learning is essential if we are serious about boosting productivity and creating opportunity for all. We were therefore pleased to see today’s announcement on doctoral loans.  It is important that we support flexible and part time study. The extension of master’s loans eligibility is a good first step and we look forward to working with the government on its wider review.  This could provide a context for exploring the idea of loan accounts for lifelong learning, given the potential for new technology to provide robust safeguards and accessibility.’

Meanwhile, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said: “Our leading universities produce world-class research which boosts productivity, drives efficiency savings, saves lives and creates innovative high-growth businesses and highly-skilled jobs.

Postgraduates are essential to a vibrant knowledge economy, are in demand by employers and are vital to growing a highly-skilled workforce in the UK – Dr Wendy Platt, Russell Group DG

Russell Group universities are engines of growth in their regions and will be key partners in the first wave of Science and Innovation Audits announced by the Chancellor today. These audits will demonstrate how our leading universities generate global competitive advantage for the UK through excellent research and innovation and vibrant links with business and the wider economy.

“Postgraduates are essential to a vibrant knowledge economy, are in demand by employers and are vital to growing a highly-skilled workforce in the UK. Our universities award nearly two-thirds of doctorates in the UK and our postgraduate research students go on to become leaders in science, public services and businesses. The introduction of PhD loan support, alongside existing grant funding will be welcomed by students and universities alike.”

Jon Wakeford, Director of Strategy and Communications at UPP and a member of the Higher Education Commission, which in 2012 published an extensive independent report, Postgraduate Education, commented: “Widening access to the brightest and the best students – regardless of background – is not only fair for students, but will boost our universities and drive prosperity in our country.”

He continued, drawing on findings from the UPP report Work Hard, Play Hard published in November 2015: “The move by the Chancellor to publish more and better information about graduate jobs and wages is a step in the right direction. As a long-term partner of the sector, we research students aspirations and concerns each year. 

“But to ensure we don’t discourage institutions who reach out to and recruit first generations or those from lower socio-economic groups, we call on the government to develop a value added scoring system for employability. This system should take into account young people’s background – in an anonymised way – so we can see the real “value added” of their higher education.”

Read the full Budget documents here.

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