Education & Family

Learning loans see fewer adults in education, says charity

Angle grinding
Image caption The government says it exempted adult apprentices from the loan scheme after the low uptake became clear

The number of adults in further education in England slumped after some were required to borrow to pay for their courses, official data suggests.

From September 2013 over-24s on advanced and higher level courses (A-level equivalents and above) had to fund their education and training.

The number of over-19s in further education fell 10.7% between 2012-13 and 2013-14, suggest the figures.

The fall will hamper the UK's economic recovery, says an education charity.

The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education says its warning about the impact of loans for this group had "so far gone unheeded".

"The situation is stark. Today's overwhelmingly disappointing figures reinforce our call for urgent and radical action to address skills gaps and skills shortages," said NIACE Chief Executive, David Hughes.

NIACE says the figures, published by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, suggest an overall fall of 27.9% in the number of people aged 25 and over on these courses.

Level four courses, which are pitched at degree level, were particularly badly hit with 34.2% fewer over-25s taking them in 2013-14 than the previous year, says the charity.

Advanced apprenticeships

NIACE warned a year ago of the possibility of a fall in the number of adults taking advanced and higher level apprenticeships after the introduction of the loans - but the figures show a fall in the uptake of all further education courses for this group.

The government hoped that 25,000 people would borrow about £4,000 to pay for their apprenticeships if their employers did not cover the cost.

In fact the uptake for the three months to the end of November 2013 was just 404.

Previously apprentices had not had to contribute to the costs of their training.

A spokeswoman for BIS said the government had decided to remove apprenticeships from the loans programme "as soon as it became clear that loans were not the preferred route for employers or prospective apprentices".

"As such we look forward to seeing this trend reverse in future and a boost to the number of adult apprentices.

"We are reforming the funding of all apprenticeships to put employers in the driving seat and ensure apprenticeships deliver the skills businesses and learners need to grow and compete."

'Reduced opportunities'

But NIACE says the loans remain for other advanced and higher level courses and are having a wider effect on the uptake of higher education.

"I want to repeat again that opportunities are reducing for people to get on in work and in life," said Mr Hughes.

"And the impact for employers means that skills gaps and skills shortages will remain, because there are not nearly enough young people entering the labour market in the next 10 years to fill the anticipated vacancies.

"There needs to be urgent action from government to address this serious decline and we call on them to delay, indefinitely, any plans to extend loans to other provision and other age-groups."

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