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The Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill would establish a new method for calculating the maximum level of tuition fees providers could charge students for higher education courses and modules.

The Bill (PDF), which is Bill 240 of the 2022-23 parliamentary session, was introduced in the House of Commons on Wednesday 1 February 2023. It would extend to England and Wales but apply to England only.

Second reading is due to take place on Monday 27 February 2023.

What would the Bill do?

The Bill would introduce a new ‘credit-based method’ to set tuition fee levels for higher education courses and modules. The Bill would also create the new concept of ‘course years’, which would be the period of twelve months from the first day of the month in which the course begins, to replace that of ‘academic years’.

Credits are a measure of the amount of learning a student is expected to do to complete a programme of study. One credit is generally equal to ten hours of learning. Learning includes formal classes, private study, and the completion of coursework and exams.

In conjunction with the forthcoming Lifelong Loan Entitlement, the Government hopes the new method will encourage the study of modules and short courses, by ensuring the maximum level of tuition fees students pay for such courses are proportionate and consistent with traditional three-year degree courses.

The Bill comprises two substantive clauses that would primarily amend Sections 10, 11, 31, and Schedule 2 of the Higher Education Research Act 2017, as well as giving Ministers powers to make regulations setting out the detail for how the Bill’s provisions would work in practice.

Background to the Bill

Tuition fee limits and student loans

Two pieces of primary legislation underpin the student loans and tuition fee limits systems in England:

In general, fee limits for tuition apply in respect of an ‘academic year’ to ‘qualifying courses’. These are courses which can be funded through student finance (known as ‘designated’ courses under the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 and related regulations), and which are offered by higher education providers registered with the Office for Students in the Approved (Fee Cap) category.

See the full briefing for more information.

The Lifelong Loan Entitlement

The Bill would support the introduction of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) from 2025. The LLE will aim to promote “a culture of upskilling and retraining” by providing individuals with a loan entitlement to the equivalent of four years of post-18 education to use over their lifetime. This entitlement would be equivalent to £37,000 in current fees.

The Government intends for the Lifelong Loan Entitlement to be used flexibly, for full-time or part-time study of modules or full qualifications at levels 4 to 6 in colleges or universities. It will replace the two existing systems of Government-backed student finance loans and Advanced Learner Loans.

Chapter two of the independent panel report to the Government’s Review of Post-18 Education and Funding (the Augar report), published in May 2019, had made the case for flexible learning at level 4 and above. It argued a core principle of any future post-18 education system should be that individuals can access a higher education loan allowance over a lifetime.

Reaction and commentary

Across the further and higher education sector, the Bill was welcomed, but many groups have called for more detail on the Lifelong Loan Entitlement ahead of its introduction in 2025.

The Bill’s impact assessment (PDF) did not give a detailed or quantitative analysis of its impacts on learners, providers, and the wider economy and society because of “two key sources of uncertainty”:

  • broader Lifelong Loan Entitlement policy
  • the possible behavioural responses from providers and learners.

However, it did say the Bill could make the cost of study on short courses and modules more accessible for those who cannot study full-time due to work, family, or personal commitments. It could also encourage greater take-up of short courses from more debt-averse mature learners.

In September 2022, the Government revealed there had been just 12 applications for tuition fee loans through the higher education short courses trial, which had been set up to inform the development of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement. The Government said it expected demand to increase over the course of the three-year trial.

In February 2023, the higher education website Wonkhe reported there have been 33 applications for tuition fees since the start of the trial.

Further reading

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