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What is the Lifelong Loan Entitlement?

From 2025, the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) will replace the two existing systems of publicly funded higher education student finance loans and Advanced Learner Loans.

The LLE will provide all new learners with a tuition fee loan entitlement to the equivalent of four years of post-18 education to use up to the age of 60. This would be £37,000 in current fees. Learners will have a personal account they can access throughout their life that will display their student finance LLE ‘balance’ as well as information, guidance, and details of eligible courses the LLE will fund.

For all courses and modules funded by the LLE, eligible learners will also be able to access maintenance loans towards their living costs, as well as targeted grants depending on their personal circumstances. Additional entitlement will be available for priority subjects, such as medicine. A “residual entitlement” will also be available to returning eligible learners who have already received publicly funded student finance.

The LLE is intended to be used flexibly, for full-time or part-time study of modules (comprising of at least 30 credits, whether individual or bundled together) or full qualifications at levels 4 to 6 in colleges or universities. Through provisions in the Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill, traditional degree courses, short courses, and modules will be priced consistently according to their respective amount of learning.

To increase flexibility for people using their LLE to retrain, current restrictions on receiving funding for most courses at an equivalent or lower level to a qualification a student already holds (ELQ restrictions) will be removed.

Next steps

  • The roll-out of the LLE will include:
    • From 2025, full courses formerly funded by the higher education student finance system and full courses formerly funded through Advanced Learner Loans that can demonstrate learner demand and employer endorsement.
    • From 2025, modules of some “job-specific” technical qualifications at levels 4 and 5, including Higher Technical Qualifications.
    • From 2027, modular student finance will be extended to levels 4 to 6 where the Government “can be confident of positive student outcomes”.
  • In autumn 2023, the Government will publish details on the courses eligible for additional entitlement under the LLE, and the principles for calculating the residual entitlement for returning eligible learners.
  • In December 2023, the Government will review qualifications currently funded by Advanced Learner Loans (ALLs) to determine which ones should be included within the scope of the LLE.
  • By “late 2023”, the Government will provide an update on Sharia-compliant student finance.
  • The Office for Students (OfS) will consult “in due course” on the development and introduction of a new third registration category for providers offering LLE-funded course and modules.

Background to the Lifelong Loan Entitlement

On 29 September 2020, the then-Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, gave a speech at Exeter College in which he announced a new Lifetime Skills Guarantee, to give people the opportunity to train and retrain throughout their lives. A Lifelong Loan Entitlement was to be an important part of this guarantee.

More detail on this guarantee was included in chapter 3 of the Government white paper Skills for jobs: Lifelong learning for opportunity and growth, which was published in January 2021. The white paper set out reforms to post-16 technical education and training the Government hoped will support people to develop the skills needed to get good jobs and improve national productivity.

On 24 February 2022, the Government concluded its review of post-18 education and funding. Alongside policies and proposals for consultation relating to student finance and student loan repayment terms, the Government launched a consultation on the Lifelong Loan Entitlement. The consultation ran between February and May 2022 and sought views on the LLE’s proposed ambition, objectives, and coverage.

The Government published its response to the consultation in March 2023, setting out how the LLE will work in practice and outlining next steps ahead of its roll-out from 2025. It also published an impact assessment, equalities analysis, and a written ministerial statement

Reaction

The planned removal of ELQ restrictions and the expansion of maintenance support for living costs to level 4 and 5 subjects was welcomed by many across the education and employment sectors as an important way to ensure learners could access funding to retrain, develop their careers, and fill skills gaps in the economy.

The Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), David Hughes, welcomed the LLE as a potential “game changer”. However, he argued modular learning needs to become more mainstream, and the LLE alone would not change the behaviours and priorities of the vast majority of learners focussed on achieving a traditional undergraduate degree above all else.

The decision to cap eligibility for the LLE at age 60 has also been described as an “ageist strategy”, while the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), Jo Grady, has said more funding was needed so learners could stay in their studies and not leave because of financial reasons, and to ensure providers can adapt courses for modular learning.

Commentary

According to the impact assessment published alongside the Government’s consultation response, it is not possible to develop a fully quantified assessment of the LLE because of current uncertainty around the likely response of learners and providers, and because some policy decisions have yet to be made. The Government has said a more detailed assessment will be published when it has laid the secondary legislation needed to implement the LLE fully.

Questions have been raised about the demand for the LLE and whether it will increase lifelong learning. The potential additional regulatory burden and costs to providers have also been highlighted at a time when the financial sustainability of the further and higher education sectors are under strain.

More information is available in the full briefing.

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