Lifelong learning entitlement should be 50% bigger, says commission

The Lifelong Education Commission suggests that government establish a national “think and do tank” to support regions meet their skills needs

The Lifelong Education Commission, chaired by former universities minister Chris Skidmore, has suggested changes to the government’s lifelong learning entitlement (LLE), including switching to a per-module allocation amounting to six years of full-time study. 

On 9 May, the commission published its view of the government LLE proposals, suggesting that it be based “exclusively on a per-credit funding model” rather than a yearly equivalent. 

The LLE aims to increase the number of adults with higher-level qualifications, those above level 4. The government has suggested each adult be given the equivalent of four years of study on approved LLE modules. The commission warned that offering adults the chance to study these courses – which are likely to be part-time, flexible, and offered with a mix of in-work, online, and classroom-based lessons – based on how much full-time education it corresponds to “is a false equivalence”. 

It advised that the LLE system “cannot be built in the same way as the current student finance system” geared towards “monolithic” three-year degrees.

“At the proposed LLE level available to learners of £37,000, or the equivalent of 4 years of annual tuition fees for level 6 courses, per-credit funding currently translates to an exchange rate of c. £77.08 of LLE funding per course credit,” the commission stated. “This will allow learners to use their LLE in the most efficient possible way, spending as much or as little as they can at any time based on how much spare time and capacity they have to take training and upskilling courses in parallel to their work.” 

The commission also argued that the current per-credit equivalent of a four-year course (480 credits) should increase to 720 credits, equivalent to six years, in the medium term. 

Universities should sign up to a standardised credit framework, the commission suggested. This framework could mimic current multi-year degrees, including first-year introductory modules, second-year specialised modules, and subsequent-year capstone modules, enabling learners to select and stack complementary modules. 

Other lifelong learning entitlement recommendations: 

  • There should be no distinction between technical and academic courses in terms of their eligibility for LLE funding. 
  • The Unit for Future Skills should handle an enhanced brief, reflected in a new name: the National Institute for Future Skills (NIFS). 
  • NIFS should, the commission argues, oversee the work of Local Skills Improvement Plans and devolved mayoralties and combined authorities, operating as a “strategic advice and consultancy body”, with “the roving function of providing specialist hands-on services”. 
  • To ensure LLE modules offer hands-on training, the government could introduce a mandatory minimum of 20% industry-relevant skills content into courses covered by LLE funding. 
  • The government could require modules eligible for LLE funding to be co-designed and delivered by people with extensive industry experience.  
  • Universities should be encouraged to design modules for online delivery, to support distance learning.
  • Job Centres should have hubs that direct people towards lifelong learning opportunities.

Read more: Funding and regulation ‘disincentive’ to lifelong learning reform

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