£10,000 'national learning entitlement' proposed for post-18 education

Education experts are proposing a radical new approach to student funding

Jonathan Owen

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All school leavers in England should get a £10,000 grant to invest in their education once they turn 18, in a bid to have a fairer funding system, according to some of Britain’s top educationalists.

A "National Learning Entitlement" is being proposed by Tom Schuller, visiting professor at University College London’s Institute of Education; Sir Alan Tuckett, professor of education at the University of Wolverhampton; and Tom Wilson, visiting research fellow at UCL’s Institute of Education.

Details of the new proposal are outlined in a new paper being presented at the IoE tomorrow.

The current system is unfair, inefficient, unaffordable and inflexible, according to the paper, published by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies, UCL.

It states: “Within any age cohort, university students get all the attention and the lion’s share of financial support. Difficult though it is to get comparable figures, per student funding for university teaching is something like four times the amount given to students in other post-school institutions, mostly further education colleges."

The paper adds: “Overall the funding for adult skills and education has been cut every year for 10 years, down to £1.5 billion. This leaves a tiny amount per capita for adult learning."

Striking a balance

It argues for a “National Learning Entitlement that would enable free access to publicly provided, or publicly recognised, education and training for the equivalent of two years for all those aged 18 and above”.

This would include adults without degrees, something which would help to reinvigorate adult education and a culture of lifelong learning for all, according to the paper.

It says: “A major advantage of our proposal is that it would encourage innovation and diversity on the part of educational institutions, both colleges and universities”.

The new proposal would cost £8.5 billion a year, significantly cheaper than Labour’s suggestion of simply abolishing tuition fees, claim the authors of the paper.

Taking a wider approach

They state: “The proposal takes the debate beyond the current narrow focus on university education and student debt, to a broader and more inclusive system which would encourage learning at all ages by a diverse range of students, at a lower cost than the abolition of tuition fees”.

University undergraduates could use the entitlement of up to £5,000 a year over two years to cut the cost of their fees, while those not wanting to go to university would be able to cover the cost of courses in further education, apprenticeships or other accredited routes. There would be no time limit on when the money would have to be spent.

Further education and FE students “are grotesquely neglected” in the public debate over education, according to the paper.

It says: “Unfamiliarity, snobbery and sheer prejudice are some of the reasons for this neglect. It’s time that changed. More money needs to go into the system, but on a different and much broader basis.”

Mark Dawe, chief executive, Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “This is certainly an interesting idea that is worth exploring further. However, we need to think carefully how to allocate scarce resource for education and training, especially for 18- to 24-year-olds, because of our overriding concerns about the negative impact on social mobility that many policies are having at the moment”.

Government view

A DfE spokesperson said: “The current student finance system is fair, sustainable and progressive. The loan system minimises upfront costs for students and ensures that individuals only make their contribution to the system when they can afford to do so."

They added: "Furthermore, through the introduction of the apprenticeship levy – anyone over the age of 16 undertaking an approved apprenticeship has their training costs covered. For those employers who don’t pay the levy the government pays 90 per cent of the training costs for an apprenticeship, up to the maximum band limit."

Advanced Learner Loans are also available to thousands of adults wishing to retrain, "helping them to meet upfront fees and removing one of the main barriers to learning," according to the spokesperson.

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Jonathan Owen

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