Transformative student finance bill becomes law

New measures have been enshrined in law that will transform the student finance system, allowing colleges and universities to charge different fees for different courses for the first time and opening up opportunities for adults to study in a way that works for them.

The Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) (formerly the Lifelong Loan Entitlement) will give all adults from 2025 access to loans, worth up to £37,000 in today’s fees, that they can use flexibly over their working lives to upskill or retrain.

The LLE will mean people will be able to take out a student loan to pay for full-time courses such as university degrees or higher technical qualifications (HTQs), as well as for some individual modules of courses.

People who have already taken out a loan for a degree will also be able to use the rest of their entitlement to study subjects that will help them gain additional skills that employers are looking for, making it easier for people to build up their skills over time. This includes studying individual modules of degree courses or HTQs to help them to do this in a way that fits round their lives and commitments.

To prepare for the introduction of the LLE, a new £5 million scheme has launched to encourage universities and colleges to develop and offer individual modules of HTQs in a flexible way. Under the scheme students will be offered the opportunity to study in-demand modules of HTQs, such as digital, health and science and construction, ahead of the launch of the LLE from 2025.

Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon said: “Giving people the chance to access education and training over the course of their working lives, in a way that suits them, is crucial to enabling those from all backgrounds to climb the ladder of opportunity.

“From higher technical qualification modules in cyber security to short courses in accountancy and university degrees in engineering, this new Lifelong Learning Entitlement will allow people to hop on and off their educational journey throughout their lives with a single ticket, towards the destination of rewarding, skilled employment. This will plug skills gaps and give employers access to a pipeline of talent to help them grow.”

The new measures in the Lifelong Learning Act will allow universities and colleges to use a new method of calculating the maximum level of tuition fees they can charge for different courses. This will make the pricing of modules and short courses proportionate, so people can access education and training at a fair price.

Chair of the Post-18 Education and Funding Review Philip Augar said: “This legislation gives us a framework that fits our modern, fast-changing jobs market. The potential now exists for adults to transform life opportunities through lifelong learning and I hope universities, colleges and employers respond constructively in ensuring that this potential is fulfilled.”

Policy Advisor at Coventry University Dr Elizabeth Norton said: “The Lifelong Learning Bill has not only provided the foundation for a radical overhaul of the student tuition fee loans system in England, but has also asked the entire higher education sector to look carefully at how and when students decide to learn on a timeline convenient to them.

“Coventry University Group has prioritised and pioneered ‘life shaped learning’ for many years, and with this bill receiving Royal Assent, legislation is reflecting the flexibility people need in accessing higher education funding throughout their careers.”

Vice Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University Edward Peck said: “From initial discussion within the Augar Review Panel in 2018 through to Royal Assent in 2023, the idea of a Lifelong Learning Entitlement has built universal support because it will make higher education available to those who could benefit throughout their adult working lives.

“Everybody who is committed to enhanced social mobility within an ever higher skilled economy will welcome the successful passage of this Bill onto the statute book.”

Executive Director of Finance at Salford University Julie Charge said: “The Lifelong Learning Bill is an important tool to support the skills development of individuals over their careers helping them reach their full potential. The ability to access module learning will open up opportunities to those who can’t commit to full time education and otherwise would be excluded.

“This Bill is a significant step in embedding life long learning in the UK which will help address employer’s skills and productivity needs as well giving students access to high quality courses throughout their lives.”

David Hughes, Chief Executive of Association of Colleges, said: “I am pleased to see the Lifelong Learning Bill gain Royal Assent, having given written and oral evidence as it made its way through parliament. The Lifelong Learning Entitlement has the potential to be a game-changer, and I hope that this is the beginning of a significant cultural shift in the way post-18 education and training is delivered and taken up in England.

“The need for a new lifelong learning culture and the system of funding and opportunities behind it is clear – with an ageing population, the skills needed by employers rapidly changing with technological change and the move to a net zero economy, we need every adult to have the capacity, motivation, and opportunities to carry on learning throughout their lives.”

Vice Chancellor of Bath Spa University Professor Sue Rigby said: “Opening up higher education by allowing learners to dip in and out of study throughout their career is a dramatic and transformational move. It will increase the skills base that drives the economy and allow people to learn what they need to thrive when they are ready to do so.”

Higher technical qualifications – that sit between A levels and T levels, and degrees – give adults the skills employers need and are available in a range of in demand subjects including Digital, Construction, and Health and Science with more coming on board over the next few years. From this September, HTQs have been put on par with degrees with students able to access maintenance loans, especially for those studying part time, helping learners fit study around work and other commitments as we move towards the flexibility envisioned by the LLE.

Following engagement with the higher education sector, the government has decided to change the name of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement to the Lifelong Learning Entitlement, so it better reflects its core purpose of offering learning opportunities throughout people’s working lives, making education and training more accessible to people from all backgrounds.