The UK Government is reforming how students access finance to support further and higher education with a new Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) to replace existing student finance by 2025. The LLE aims to boost the demand for flexible and modular learning and will be equivalent to four years of post-18 education which can be used over an individual’s lifetime. We responded to the government’s consultation on the shape of the LLE and raised a number of concerns that will need to be addressed.

What is the Lifelong Learning Entitlement?

Overall, we are highly supportive of the ambition of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE). Individuals face an increasingly complex and unpredictable future, and in such a rapidly evolving employment landscape, the ability to study, train, retrain and upskill across the life course is increasingly vital.

As our previous research has demonstrated, the lack of high-quality alternatives to the traditional three or four year university route has meant that young people seeking a pathway into skilled employment have often faced both a narrow and limited range of options. Improving the availability of high-quality, flexible, academic and technical pathways into the labour market is key if individuals are to be given a genuine choice rather than take the default university route.

The challenges faced

Yet, there are a number of challenges that need to be addressed if the LLE is to realise its ambitions.

There is a pressing need to ensure that the careers information, advice and guidance system (IAG) is able to equip individuals with the information and support they need to make informed decisions. This requires clear occupational maps outlining progression routes, transparency of how modules and specific qualifications support progression, and information on likely return on investment. Our recent research suggests that current arrangements for career advice and guidance are inadequate.

Alongside better IAG, to inform and shape learner demand, there also needs to be more consideration given to how to map current and future employer skills demand. There are a number of mechanisms, either existing or in the process of being introduced, to understand skills gaps and training needs, including the Future Skills Unit, Trailblazer Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). How intelligence on employers' current and emerging skills gaps and challenges is gathered, coordinated and shared between local, regional and national levels will be critical.

More consideration also needs to be given to how the proposed LLE could interact with employer support, either through a co-investment mechanism or through the provision of in-kind support for those undertaking provisions funded via the LLE. Evidence from the US, for instance, where Lifelong Learning Accounts (LiLAs) have been piloted across a number of states since 2001, suggests that the co-investment model acts as a combined incentive to encourage greater take-up and investment in training, and better matching of skills development between individual and business needs.

Without a mechanism to incentivise employer investment, there is a real risk that the LLE will encourage employers to shift responsibility for funding training to employees. Reforming the Apprenticeship Levy into a flexible training levy, as we have previously suggested, could potentially provide a mechanism to support employer co-investment.

These are all key issues that need to be considered if the LLE is to realise its mission to boost the demand for higher technical qualifications.

About the author

Lizzie Crowley, Senior Policy Adviser - Skills

Lizzie is a policy and research professional with over 13 years’ experience in the employment and skills arena, having worked with both the public and private sector to develop high-quality research to inform organisational practice, public policy and shape the public debate.

Prior to joining the CIPD Lizzie led The Work Foundation's research and policy development on the youth labour market – and has published a number of influential reports on youth unemployment. She has regularly appeared on national and regional TV and radio, including BBC Breakfast, BBC the One Show, the Today Programme and Channel 4 news. Lizzie graduated in Sociology and has a master's degree in Social Science Research Methods, both from the University of Glasgow.

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