More adult learners should be allowed to take out bank loans to fund their education and training in order to widen access, according to a new report.
Liberal think tank CentreForum says adults should be entitled to a professional and career development loan (PCDL) provided they have been accepted on to an accredited course of study.
The loans allow learners to borrow between £300 and £10,000 at a reduced interest rate, while the government pays the interest during the study period.
But CentreForum says too few adult learners who apply are offered the loans. It wants the government to enhance the scheme and widen its eligibility.
However, adult education body Niace criticised the proposal and said asking people to take out commercial interest bank loans was not the answer.
In a wide-ranging report setting out a programme for education policy in the next parliament, the thinktank urges politicians to build a skills system that promotes choice and flexibility and is more responsive to employer demand.
As well as the PCDL proposal the report proposes industry-based CPD and secondments for teachers, and calls for an intensive focus across schools and colleges on boosting literacy and numeracy, building pupils’ character and entrepreneurial qualities, and raising the standard of careers guidance.
The report, Fit for growth: investing in a stronger skills base to 2020, also includes a call for greater cooperation between policymakers and professional bodies to support workplace training, and for more clarity around the funding and expected outcomes of apprenticeships.
Tom Frostick, policy analyst at CentreForum and editor of the report, said: “With continued pressure on public finances, whoever governs beyond May will have to think carefully about skills spending priorities. This paper contains plenty of food for thought.”
Business secretary Vince Cable, who wrote the foreword, said: “Investing in skills is not only vital to creating a stronger economy, but crucial to making our society fairer through greater social mobility.”
Steve Mulligan, Niace assistant director for policy and public affairs, too few working age adults are participating in learning and existing policy isn’t working.
But, he added: "Asking people to take out credit-score-dependent, commercial interest bank loans is not the answer, even with the enhancements being proposed.
"Instead, we need to rethink Personal Skills Accounts so that individuals, employers and local/national government can contribute fairly and do much more to improve the 24+ Advanced Learning Loans system.”