Lifelong learning entitlement requires ‘sustainable’ university funding

Universities UK says its members are eager to implement the LLE and “unlock opportunities for learners” – but said sustainable funding and enhanced student advice are needed

As a government consultation on its plan for a Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) comes to a close, Universities UK has warned that sustainable funding, better guidance for students and more flexible rules are needed if the system is to work.

University leaders support the plans that would offer learners in England flexible loans equivalent to four years of post-18 training. The government hopes the reforms will come into force in 2025, unifying two systems of government-financed loans for level four to level six courses. Ministers want to increase the number of mature learners in training to meet UK skills gaps and spark innovation in short courses and higher technical qualifications.

In response to the lifelong learning consultation, which closes on Friday 6 May, UUK said it was “a welcome programme of reform” that, although complex, “can work if the design process draws from existing regulatory and quality assurance mechanisms”.

UUK said it wanted the government to relax rules prohibiting loans for students with equivalent or lower qualifications to “allow progression both up and down levels”. At the moment, this rule prevent students from accessing loan funding for a second degree in a non-science subject.

Universities need “sustainable funding…proportionate to a full qualification” to afford sufficient student support and high-cost modules. Modularisation “will be more expensive” than the current system, meaning top-up funding will be needed, warned UUK.

Universities are willing to pilot, innovate and collaborate with employers, colleges, and government so flexible learning delivers the biggest benefits to society and individuals
– Prof Steve West, Universities UK

The body of university leaders also stresses that guidance, information and signposting are critical for learners – especially those without experience of HE. The role of Ucas – the admissions service – will be crucial, it said. UUK suggests the government ensure students gain access to post-study advice from careers advisers.

It even suggests that the Department for Education consider assigning each learner a “home institution”, a local university that could be physical  a “point of student connection and advice”.

Prof Steve West, president of UUK and vice-chancellor of UWE Bristol, said universities had “long campaigned for adults of all ages to be able to access high-quality, flexible learning opportunities that fit around existing work or caring commitments”.

HE providers in England are “willing to pilot, innovate and collaborate with employers, colleges, and government” to perfect the plans, he said – but urged the government to ensure the system is “easy for learners to understand and use and avoid[s] unnecessary bureaucracy for all involved”.

The UUK consultation response warns that ministers have not yet explained how they will ensure the new system is Sharia-compliant. Islamic law prevents the paying and receiving of interest for profit, meaning some believe a student loan does not comply. “The LLE must make progress on Sharia compliance with the student finance system,” UUK urged.

Read more: Donelan urges universities to ’embrace’ lifelong learning entitlement

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