The government has quietly scrapped a controversial loan scheme for older apprentices after receiving only a fraction of the expected number of applications.
Since June, people aged 24 and over have had to take out a loan to fund higher-level apprentices after the government stopped funding them.
But after seven months, the 24+ advanced learning loans system had only attracted 404 applicants, compared to a target of 25,000 for the 2013/14 academic year.
Earlier this week it was reported that business secretary Vince Cable accepted the scheme had not worked and would be dropped.
Today a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) confirmed this to TES, but would not give further details.
The University and College Union (UCU), which opposed the measure from the start, said that the government now has to provide proper support for people who want to return to study and cancel the loans of people who have already applied.
“Forcing older people to take out huge loans to retrain was always going to be a barrier and the only saving grace is that even the government seems to have, belatedly, recognised this," UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said.
"Apprentices need proper support and the loans for the handful of people who did apply must be cancelled.”
David Hughes, chief executive of adult education body Niace, congratulated the government for "finally" recognising what he described as a "failed" policy.
“We are anxious to see the detail of any new proposals," Mr Hughes added. "Whatever is proposed, we are sure the government, employers, learning providers and learners and their representatives will need to work together to understand the full implications of this policy and how best to take it forward.”
In a policy document published in April, BIS denied the introduction of loans would have a damaging impact on participation in learning.
It said that market research showed three-quarters of FE learners would consider undertaking learning following the introduction of loans, and only 3 per cent said that they definitely would not.
But the latest figures, released in November, showed that less than 1 per cent of the 52,468 FE loan applications to October 31 were for apprenticeships.
BIS confirmed to TES that FE loans for non-apprenticeship learners would continue.