An adult education body has called on the government to monitor its FE loans scheme amid fears it has had a negative impact on participation.
A year ago the government introduced advanced learning loans for adults over the age of 24 for a range of courses. But the latest figures, published yesterday, show that only 65,000 loans have been received against a government target of 85,000.
The National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (Niace), said the shortfall in loans could indicate a potentially substantial under-spend in the budget.
In the first year of the policy, the vast majority of applications were taken out to support Level 3 Diplomas (48 per cent) and Access to HE provision (30 per cent).
The government was forced to drop apprenticeships from the loans system earlier this year due to a lack of interest. After seven months, the apprenticeship loans had only attracted 404 applicants, compared to a target of 25,000 for the 2013/14 academic year.
Dr Fiona Aldridge, Niace assistant director for development and research, called for an ongoing impact assessment of the policy to be commissioned.
“It is important we understand who is learning, what they're learning, where they're learning and who is missing out," she said.
Research recently published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills showed that as early as January 2013, some 70 per cent of providers believed that the introduction of loans would change the whole further education landscape.
Dr Aldridge added: "With the minister now indicating that funding will switch over time to follow the learner through loans or the employer through apprenticeships, it is important that we fully understand the impact of loans to make sure we protect the most vulnerable adults and the most important learning."