An adult education body has called for urgent action to deal with the “collapse” in the number of adults taking courses at levels 3 and 4 after new government figures were published.
The latest figures show there were only 43,830 applications for the government’s 24+ Advanced Learning Loans between 14 April and 30 September.
In 2012/13 more than 400,000 people aged 24 and over took part in learning at levels 3 and 4, but recent provisional data for the 2013/14 academic year showed only 57,000 people paid for learning at this level with the new loan scheme.
David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace), said the latest figures were a "clear warning" that last year was not a blip.
"Huge numbers of people are no longer participating in learning that will help them to get on in life and in careers which will help the economy to grow," he said.
“We repeat our call to government to do something about this urgently. We are keen to support Bis [the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills] and SFA [the Skills Funding Agency] to consider the actions needed that will overcome this drop in participation.
“Otherwise the prospects of there being enough highly-skilled people to do the jobs – now and in the future - that employers are desperate to fill, look bleak.”
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 held a consultation 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.
A BIS spokeswoman said: “We will continue to monitor take-up and work with the sector to help them share best practice on how providers have made loans work for them. The consultation on expanding and simplifying Advanced Learning Loans has now closed and the government will issue a response in late autumn.”
FE loans scheme causes adult apprentice numbers to plummet, figures reveal – October 2014
Widening the net of learning loans – June 2014
'Failed' loans scheme for older apprentices scrapped due to lack of interest – December 2013