A flexible modular world: the Lifelong Learning Entitlement

The Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) will give individuals up to the age of 60 access to a loan that will cover the costs for the equivalent of four years of post-18 study. Jack Smith, the OfS’s Head of Pathways and Funding Policy, explores the possibilities and impact of colleges and universities offering more funded modular study.

How will higher education delivery change?

Students will be able to take a more flexible approach to how they study and will have the option to draw on LLE funds to study specific modules as well as full years of study.

From 2025, modular study will be eligible for funding and students will be able to apply for a student loan for modules of higher technical qualifications (HTQs) and some other Level 4 and 5 courses.

From 2027, students will be able to apply for a student loan for eligible modules on all Level 4 to 6 courses, subject to government decisions about provider eligibility.

Over time, we think this will lead to some or all of the following changes:

  • Universities and colleges will offer standalone modules from existing courses
  • Students will be able to build a full qualification by completing different modules, across different courses, from different universities or colleges
  • Students could end up studying at several universities or colleges at the same time, or across multiple departments in a single higher education provider
  • Students will be able to study modules that will give them the skills or knowledge they need to progress their career without the intention of building or completing a full qualification.

If there is a growth in LLE funded modular study, we also think there might be a shift to:

  • Universities and colleges changing existing full courses to an LLE fundable modular format
  • Universities and colleges changing existing part-time courses to an LLE fundable modular format
  • An increase in modular study overall, not only LLE fundable modules
  • A decrease in the number of employers paying for continuing professional development (CPD) related courses as individuals will receive funding for standalone modules
  • An increase in employers encouraging employees to take up CPD related modules as they will not need to fund them.

Regulating the LLE: the OfS’s policy

The OfS’s role will be to regulate all universities and colleges offering LLE funded higher education. Our current approach to understanding student outcomes is designed around students undertaking whole qualifications. We need to think about how we will understand student outcomes from modular study in the future.

The key question we are asking in our call for evidence is what will change in the delivery of higher education as a result of implementation of the LLE. We are also asking for views on different options for measuring student outcomes in higher technical qualifications and modular study.

In the call for evidence, we set out our view that our policy aims should be centred on protection:

  • Protecting students by ensuring positive outcomes from study on a modular basis
  • Protecting taxpayers’ investment by ensuring a minimum level of quality, including outcomes, and minimising the potential for the misuse of public funding by universities and colleges and students
  • Protecting the reputation of higher education in England during a period of change and growth in new approaches to delivery.

We also thought that it would be important to provide clarity and transparency about our regulatory approach so that registered universities and colleges can comply, innovate and grow. This will also ensure we can take regulatory action where appropriate for individual higher education providers that do not meet our minimum expectations.

The feedback we receive in the call for evidence will help us design our regulation as we consider what we are trying to achieve by imposing or changing our requirements. The call for evidence will inform our policy aims as we design any future approach to regulating student outcomes for modular study.

Who we have been speaking to

We have been meeting with higher education providers, students, representative bodies and other stakeholders to have conversations about our future approach. We have heard a wide range of views during open conversations and received varied feedback on what changes may occur as result of the LLE, including :

  • The uptake of modular provision within the sector will vary between universities and colleges to begin with
  • Some universities and colleges are keen to make early use of the flexibility that LLE offers
  • The new flexibility of modular study could be attractive to students returning to education after a relatively long absence
  • Some students, initially at least, may not be taking modules with a clear route through higher education in mind.

Our conversations about how people might understand students’ intentions and what success looks like and our engagement with the sector so far has helped us think about what steps we take next. We will consider what the rate of growth in modular study in different parts of the sector might mean for our approach and how we ensure any steps we take are appropriate.

The call for evidence closes on Thursday 2 November 2023.

We will carefully consider views and evidence shared as we develop our regulatory approach. Please do submit a response to the call if you have views or evidence that would help us shape our work in this area.


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Published 25 October 2023

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