Pressure is growing on the government to review its further education loans system after new figures showed a dramatic drop in the number of adult learners.
According to the latest official figures, published today, the number of adults taking part in government funded learning dropped by 10.7 per cent in the year between 2012/13 and 2013/14.
There was also a 13.7 per cent overall fall in apprenticeship starts in the same period, including a 19 per cent drop among those aged 19 and over, and a 29.8 per cent slump among those aged 25 and over.
The National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (Niace) called the news “overwhelmingly disappointing”, while the University and College Union said the decision to introduce advanced learning loans to fund a range of FE courses had had a “devastating impact”. Both called for urgent action from the government.
The tuition fee-style loans scheme was introduced in April last year after the government withdrew funding for a range of courses for over 24s.
However, it was forced to scrap loans for higher apprenticeships after receiving only a fraction of the expected number of applications.
The government recently consulted on expanding the scheme to make 19- to 23-year-olds pay the full cost of level 2 and 3 qualifications, including GCSEs, A-levels and vocational qualifications such as BTECs.
David Hughes, chief executive of Niace said the situation was “stark”.
“Today’s overwhelmingly disappointing figures reinforce our call for urgent and radical action to address skills gaps and skills shortages,” he said.
“Our warnings about the impact of loans have so far gone unheeded.
“There needs to be urgent action from government to address this serious decline and we call on them to delay, indefinitely, any plans to extend loans to other provision and other age-groups.”
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said the time had come for a “complete rethink” of loans and the FE funding system.
“The introduction of adult learning loans for those aged 24 and over has led to a dramatic fall in the numbers participating in learning,” she said.
“This, alongside fewer adults participating in other learning, will severely impact the prospects for long-term economic growth and for people’s ability to progress in their careers and in life.”
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said the removal of loans for higher apprenticeships from the system would lead to a reversal in the trend and a boost to the number of adult apprentices.
A spokeswoman said: "We are reforming the funding of all apprenticeships to put employers in the driving seat and ensure apprenticeships deliver the skills businesses need to grow and compete.
“More than 1,000 employers are now involved in designing high quality apprenticeships as part of the successful trailblazers initiative.”
BIS said the figures also showed traineeships were off to a “strong start”, with more than 10,000 young people taking part in the first year of the programme.
Widening the net of learning loans – June 2014
'Failed' loans scheme for older apprentices scrapped due to lack of interest – December 2013