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The majority of public funding for non-apprenticeship adult (19+) further education in England is provided by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) through its Adult Education Budget (AEB). The AEB has been held constant in cash terms at £1.5 billion between 2016-17 and 2019-20.

The AEB supports a wide range of provision, including the statutory entitlements to full funding for some adult learners (for example, for learners aged 19-23 studying for their first full level 2 qualification). Whether a learner is eligible for AEB funding outside of the statutory entitlements depends on their personal circumstances, with funding generally focused on lower skill levels, younger adults, and the unemployed.

Control over the AEB will be transferred to six Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) and the Greater London Authority (GLA) from the 2019-20 academic year, a year later than originally planned. The devolved authorities are:

  • Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
  • Greater Manchester
  • Greater London
  • Liverpool City Region
  • Tees Valley
  • West Midlands
  • West of England

Once control over the AEB has been transferred, the devolved authorities will be responsible for commissioning and funding AEB provision for learners resident in their areas. This includes responsibility for fully funding the statutory entitlements. In exercising their adult education functions, the devolved areas must have regard to statutory guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

The ESFA will continue to be responsible for funding provision for residents of non-devolved areas.

The 2019-20 AEB funding allocations for the MCAs and the GLA were published on 27 March 2019. The allocations are based on providers’ delivery in 2017‑18 to learners resident in the devolved areas. Overall, 49% of the AEB participation budget will be devolved; 51% of the AEB will continue to be administered by the ESFA.

The Government has argued that devolution of the AEB will ensure that the devolved areas are able to shape adult education provision in their area in a way that best suits the needs of their residents and the local economy. However, some potential issues have been raised regarding the policy, including that:

  • A substantial part of the devolved funding will have to be used to fund the statutory entitlements, limiting the scope that areas will have to shape the allocation of funding.
  • With devolved authorities responsible for funding learners resident in their areas irrespective of where they wish to study, there may be the potential for a ‘postcode lottery, with learners’ access to certain provision depending on where they live.

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