More action needed on FE loans following impact assessments

21 June 2012

The Equality Impact Assessment and Regulatory Impact Assessment, which were published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on Friday 15 June 2012, have clarified a number of issues, but NIACE raises three main concerns and four outstanding questions in a recent policy briefing.

Following the publication of the impact assessments, NIACE is concerned about the potential impact on adult learners and in particular on:

  • Adults aged 40 and over who are the one group identified as being the most likely to be disadvantaged by this policy and who appear significantly less likely to take out loans than younger people.
  • Learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. The Assessment admits the research sample size was insufficient for statistically robust analysis, however, NIACE urges the Government to monitor this closely and prepare contingency plans in case recruitment of learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities declines significantly from its already low baseline.
  • Female learners. The research for the Assessment found that ‘women were marginally less likely to want to take up a loan…[but]…the difference was not large enough to be statistically significant’. It concluded that there was ‘little evidence that this group will be disadvantaged’. However, this assessment neglects to mention that women form a significant majority (64%) of learners aged 24+ studying at Level 3+.

Alongside these concerns are the following four questions which remain unanswered:

1. Which courses and subjects are most likely to be affected?

2. What will the impact be on Access to Higher Education courses?

3. What consideration has been given to the risk that the level 3 offer will disappear or shrink in some geographical areas?

4. What assessment has been made of the potential impact of the policy on widening participation and on the quality of the learning experience?

Alastair Thomson, NIACE Principal Advocacy Officer, said:

“NIACE’s outstanding concerns about the introduction of 24+ Advanced Learning Loans include, not only equality issues around age, disability and gender, but the impact they will have on the learning offer – especially access to HE – the quality of the learning experience and what subjects might be available in all areas. NIACE believes that Government cannot be complacent and simply ‘wait and see’ what happens by monitoring take-up, evaluating impact and tracking awareness. Such action is of course welcome, should be properly resourced and should involve direct engagement with learners and employers. However, Government must take a determinedly proactive and urgent approach to risk management and act now to ensure that the introduction of these loans does not introduce new and unwanted barriers to adults participating in learning.”

David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, said:

“More than anything the findings of these assessments show that BIS needs to work with a range of organisations to develop a strategy for informing and supporting those most likely to be affected. The strategy requires specific tailored approaches to minimising the impact of the introduction of the loans to different groups of learners, different types of providers, in different parts of the country and in different subjects. For instance, the care sector looks as though it could be significantly affected, with thousands of people learning. Actions need to be taken to ensure that this sector and others are not unduly affected. “