The government has "damaged the economy" with its controversial loans scheme for older learners after figures showed it had led to a huge drop in the number starting apprenticeships, critics have claimed.
Provisional data released today by the Skills Funding Agency show the introduction of 24+ Advanced Learning Loans in August 2013 had a significant impact on apprenticeships, with 66,600 fewer advanced level starts and 900 fewer higher-level starts in 2013/14 than the previous year.
David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education, said: “The fact that 72,500 fewer people aged 25 and over have started apprenticeships will have serious implications for the economy.”
Mr Hughes suggested the fall in adult apprenticeship starts could have had a knock-on impact on English and maths participation; the figures show 99,000 fewer learners on those courses in 2013/14.
“More than anything these figures are damaging to individuals who want to get on, damaging to employers who are facing skills shortages and damaging to economic growth,” he added.
The government was forced to scrap the apprenticeship element of the loans scheme last December after receiving only a fraction of the expected number of applications, eventually removing them from the system in February.
They are now eligible for funding via the adult skills budget.
Although today’s figures are provisional, and more accurate data will be published next month, the release acknowledges loans had a “direct” impact on apprenticeship numbers.
It adds: “There is also some anecdotal evidence that the numbers of starts for other ages may have been indirectly affected.”
In a statement, skills minister Nick Boles said: “Changes in the funding of adult apprenticeships did affect the number of starts between August 2013 and February 2014. We have since addressed this and look forward to numbers bouncing back.”
The minister welcomed other, more positive figures in the release, including an increase in the number of 16 to 24-year-old apprentices and 10,500 young people starting the government’s new traineeships scheme.