ELQ rule dropped under England’s lifelong loan entitlement

Ministerial consultation response says maintenance loans will be extended to cover part-time courses for the first time, but signals that significant impact on degree-level courses is unlikely until 2027

March 7, 2023
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Ministers have said they will scrap rules barring students from accessing public funding for a course at an equivalent or lower level than they have previously studied as part of the shift to England’s planned lifelong loan entitlement (LLE), but have indicated that any significant impact on degree-level courses might be pushed back to 2027.

Publishing its response to the consultation on the introduction of the LLE on 7 March, the Westminster government also said that the availability of maintenance loans would be extended to cover part-time and technical courses for the first time, including modular level study.

The LLE, due to be introduced in 2025, will give people in England access to loans worth the equivalent of four years of post-18 education – £37,000 at today’s prices – to use over the course of their working lives. In addition to covering traditional degrees and other courses, the intention is that learners will be able to access funding to study individual modules, and stack these into a full qualification over time if they wish.

The dropping of the equivalent or lower qualification (ELQ) rule represents a victory for the university sector and peers – including former universities minister Lord Johnson of Marylebone – who had argued that it deterred people from retraining and has been seen as an important factor in the collapse in part-time study since the introduction of higher tuition fees in 2012.

This means that someone who has already taken out a student loan to study for a degree will still be eligible for some additional funding at the same level.

However, this will not extend to master’s-level study because, while research-intensive universities in the Russell Group had called for these to be covered by the LLE, the government’s announcement of its consultation response only mentions qualifications up to bachelor’s level.

But, while modular level funding will be available for higher technical qualifications and some technical level 4 and 5 qualifications from 2025, the government said that level 5 and 6 qualifications – those typically offered by universities, including degrees – would not be eligible for modular funding until 2027.

The government said that students would be able to see their loan allowance on a website and would receive a standardised transcript on the completion of a module to facilitate the transfer of credits. However, the modules must still be part of a full course, and not stand-alone courses in their own right.

Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, said that the LLE would “give people flexibility to study, train and upskill throughout their working life, in recognition that careers aren’t linear”.

“In doing so, it will facilitate a complete culture shift in the way further and higher education is viewed and who it is available to,” she said.

Vivienne Stern, the chief executive of Universities UK, said vice-chancellors “welcome[d] the direction of travel set out today”.

“The removal of ELQ requirements and the expansion of part-time maintenance support should be celebrated and will help new and returning people access the courses they need to thrive. If we get the communication out to learners right and keep the burden on providers low, then the lifelong loan entitlement has the potential to be truly transformative.”

A Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill, which seeks to enable the LLE, continues to make its way through Parliament.

Lord Johnson, who had sought the removal of the ELQ rule under a related piece of legislation, the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022, said that it was “great news” that the restriction was being removed, but added that “two crucial further changes are necessary if the LLE is to fulfil its potential”.

“First, the minimum unit of LLE-fundable learning should be 5-10 credits rather than 30-40, which will require learners to take loans of £2,000-£3,000 when many learners will just want to access bite-sized courses at a fraction of the cost; and second, the LLE must be able to fund courses that are quality kitemarked by a wide range of providers, including professional, statutory and regulatory bodies, not just higher education institutions with degree-awarding powers,” Lord Johnson said.


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Reader's comments (1)

The LLE initiative will fail if the minimum loan size is too high. Lord Johnson is right to say “First, the minimum unit of LLE-fundable learning should be 5-10 credits rather than 30-40, ........." Adult learners aged 30 to 60 will not be very interested if the minimum they can borrow is £10,000.


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