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Institute of Continuing Education (ICE)

Students at Madingley Hall

The UK Government’s Skills and Post-16 Education Act was recently passed into law, promising to “level up and drive economic growth across the whole country.” Introduced among a host of new measures was a Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) which, from 2025, will enable learners to “access a flexible loan for higher-level education and training at university or college, which they can use at any point in their lives.” ICE’s Director of Continuing Education, Dr James Gazzard, shares his vision for this forthcoming initiative.

Since Tony Blair’s famous “education, education, education” speech in 1996, successive UK governments have pursued an ambition to get 50% of young people enrolled at university. In 2018 , that bold objective was finally realised, but, notes James, the strategy wasn’t without cost:

“There’s no doubt that policy widened access for primarily young people to enter higher education as full-time students and helped keep the UK knowledge economy competitive. It’s given us access to a much broader talent pool which has bloomed over the past 25 years.

“But the unintended flipside was that adult education, continuing education and other non-traditional forms of higher education were hit hard.  Numbers of mature and part-time students collapsed. The introduction of tuition fees and the Equivalent and Lower Qualification barriers to loan finance disproportionately impacted mature students seeking to study in flexible ways.”

Establishing a new culture of learning

As a result of that lack of student finance, many adult learners were unable to begin or extend their university-level learning – something the new LLE attempts to rectify.

“The broad idea of the LLE is to open the student loan book to anyone at any time of their lives, which I hope might lead to greater equality of opportunity and social mobility,” says James.

There are, of course, some challenging realities to confront, not least the value of outstanding student loans. The Government reports this has already topped £140 billion and expects that to rise to £560 billion over the next 30 years. Managing that while introducing a universal, lifetime entitlement to access loans for study is unlikely to be straightforward. But the barriers may not only be financial.

“Making the most of the LLE may need us to re-establish a culture of ongoing learning whereby you sometimes need to study at a lower level to progress.  In some contexts as a learner you are an expert and others a novice,” suggests James. “Even though you might have a PhD (level 8) in Quantum Computing, you might need a level 4 introductory module in project management to maximise your impact. A learning journey isn’t always linear, instead it is a series of loops and squiggles, and doesn’t ever stop.”

A joined-up vision for the future of learning

In 2017, the Government also introduced an Apprenticeship Levy, compelling larger businesses to pay into a fund supporting employees through a range of training opportunities. Today, with the Apprenticeship Levy raising around £2.5 billion per year in England  , James believes there’s strong potential for future alignment between the Levy and the LLE:

“If you put the Levy alongside the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, you’ve potentially got two very powerful vehicles that could, if an imaginative approach to joined-up policy is taken, combine towards some form of individual learning account. It is not too much of a leap to envisage, perhaps, that your employer would put money in via the Levy and you could borrow money through the LLE. Taking the idea a step further, if you were from a socio-economically disadvantaged background the government could put some money in too. Alternatively, if you’re from a more privileged background, your parents, grandparents or even you could top up your account – perhaps you might get some type of tax break for doing so, like an ISA with a focus on learning.

“And you could take the funds and use them as a younger person, or you could spread it throughout your lifetime, dipping in when you get a promotion, made redundant, want to change career, become a parent or anything else that motivates you to learn something new. With further purposeful policy making we could really supercharge a life-wide learning revolution.

“In the here and now, through the LLE and the Levy, we’ve got two high-potential schemes, if thoughtfully enacted, that could make education and training more accessible at all life stages.

“At the Institute we are fully engaged with preparing for 2025 and the introduction of LLE and growing our existing portfolio of Levy-funded Apprenticeships to ensure the Institute works to open new pathways to extended learning at Cambridge.  We will also continue to lobby policy makers to try to ensure that both schemes are made simpler, less bureaucratic and more impactful for all adult learners” 

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Find out more about the Lifelong Loan Entitlement.

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