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Lifelong Learning

Volume 731: debated on Monday 17 April 2023

The lifelong loan entitlement will ensure everyone has access to opportunities to upskill and reskill to progress in their careers. We have led a huge raft of reforms to the skills system since 2016 to deliver on this ambition, building on the reviews led by Professor Alison Wolf, Lord Sainsbury, Sir Philip Augar and others. Over this time, we have worked with over 5,000 employers to deliver apprenticeships, backed by the landmark £2.7 billion apprenticeship levy. The £3.8 billion we are investing over this Parliament will support more people to benefit from apprenticeships, skills bootcamps, T-levels, free courses for jobs and new returnerships, and will deliver our flagship institutes of technology.

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for that comprehensive reply. It is welcome that the Government, in their response to the lifelong loan entitlement consultation, have acknowledged the need for maintenance support. However, so that lifelong loans are available to the many and not to the few, can my right hon. Friend ensure that there is a clear pathway for those who do not yet have level 3 qualifications, such as A-levels, to participate in this vital initiative and ensure that it is the game changer that will unleash the skills revolution?

I thank my hon. Friend, and I agree with him that there should be a clear pathway. That is why level 3 courses are fully funded for a range of individuals through funding streams such as free courses for jobs, the adult education budget and advanced learner loans. The adult education budget allows eligible adult learners aged 19 to 23 undertaking their first full level 3 course to be fully funded, and free courses for jobs gives eligible adults the chance to access high-value level 3 courses—423 of them—for free. The Government aim to support learners building up or stacking up LLE-funded modules on pathways to full qualifications across their working lives.

Building on that answer and on the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), will my right hon. Friend tell the House what her ambitions are for lifelong loan entitlements and when they might come into force, so that older potential learners in Basildon and Thurrock can start to reskill for the 21st century?

The lifelong loan entitlement will radically transform opportunities for people, including the nurse I met outside my local hospital in Chichester, who retrained having worked for years as a domiciliary. Thousands of people like me who look for a change of career later in life have used the apprenticeship system, but now all providers registered with the Office for Students will have the opportunity to deliver LLE-funded courses, which will initially focus on higher technical qualifications, helping to address skills gaps to support learners into jobs where employers have need. The LLE will be introduced from academic year 2025-26.

Learning opportunities should be there for everyone everywhere, yet since 2010 almost 4 million fewer adults have taken part in learning, thus holding back their learning and economic potential and our country’s productivity. It has been a decade of decline, which we cannot afford to continue, so will the Secretary of State back Labour’s plans for a better skills system, working for people and businesses across the country, starting with the urgent reform of the apprenticeship levy, which she will have heard criticisms of, just as we have?

The hon. Lady may have some different figures, because 5.4 million people alone have been trained as apprentices and about half of them have been adults. But we have done a lot to reform our skills system, working with 5,000 employers to make sure that business and education meet. We are very happy with the reforms we are making and think they will offer a lot more opportunity for lifelong learning to support adults with the skills they need.

For many refugees and asylum seekers, access to lifelong learning is all the more important because their learning may have been disrupted. On Friday, my constituent Grace Franklin, a volunteer ESOL—English for speakers of other languages—teacher, and Maryhill Integration Network both raised with me access to ESOL classes for asylum seekers and refugees, which is often hampered by people staying in temporary hotel accommodation. What commitments do the UK Government have to invest further in ESOL in England, so that Scotland can benefit from the Barnett consequentials?

We have the adult education budget scheme, which is often run by local authorities and devolved in some cases to the mayors as well, and that includes ESOL provision.

The Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill could be transformational to post-16 education. However, in annexe 2 to the recent 2023-24 ministerial guidance letter to the OFS, the Secretary of State slashed funding for LLE preparation by £5 million. These are clearly complex and expensive changes for the sector to address, so how does she expect the sector to deliver these reforms without the funds to do it?

The LLE will be available for four full years of study, for higher technical and degree level and, for the first time, for modules of high-value courses regardless of whether they are provided in colleges or universities. Of course this is a big change and we are engaging with a wide range of stakeholders to gather the input to inform policy development, to build further awareness and to inform future budget development.