The Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Act 2023 is an important milestone in the government’s reforms to higher and further education in England. The act, which received royal assent last month, provides for significant changes to the student finance system, enabling fee limits to be set for modules and shorter courses, as well as full courses such as degrees. This is part of the wider reform programme to introduce the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE). From 2025, the LLE will provide learners with a loan entitlement to the equivalent of four years of post-18 education that can be used over the course of their working lives.
The overarching aim of these changes is to support a more flexible approach to learning. The government expects the new system will provide new opportunities for all learners – school leavers, people already in the workforce, and others – to be funded to study in different ways (through short courses and modular study, for example) at a time that suits them. This has the potential to make it easier for them to train, retrain and upskill to advance their careers. This in turn should help to meet the needs of the economy, as workplace skills and employment patterns change.
How will student finance change?
All existing entitlements to higher education student finance and Advanced Learner Loans (excluding Level 3) will be replaced with a fixed Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) worth the equivalent of four years of higher education student finance. From 2025, all eligible students will be able to apply for a loan that covers the cost of a variety of courses, from degrees to HTQs, and including modules.
Students will have a personal Student Loans Company (SLC) account that will display their student finance LLE ‘balance’ as well as information, guidance, and details of eligible courses the LLE will fund.
The LLE will apply to all courses, whether modular or not.
From November 2024, all providers using the SLC system will need to make changes to how they present information about their courses for the 2025-26 academic year.
From 2025, modular study will be eligible for funding and students will be able to apply for a student loan for modules of 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.
Regulating the LLE: the OfS’s role
While the act is a major milestone, it also heralds the beginning of an intensive period as we work with the sector, the SLC and government to implement the policy. We will also work closely with other regulators of further and higher education.
Our job will be to regulate all providers offering LLE-funded provision. This means that any provider wishing to offer LLE-funded provision will need to register with the OfS. This will increase the number and types of provider on our Register. But the LLE isn’t only about providers not currently registered with the OfS. We’ll need to adapt our broader regulatory approach to encompass the changes that a shift to increased modular study may bring.
We know providers will want to understand more about what the LLE will mean for them, and what they’ll need to do to prepare for it. We’ve published new pages on our website with information for providers, and established an LLE implementation team.
Engaging with the sector and other stakeholders
Our initial engagement is focused on the implications of the LLE for the way in which we regulate quality and standards. The introduction of the LLE, and in particular the shift to modular provision, will have an impact on the measures of quality we currently use.
We recently published a call for evidence that seeks views on options for measuring student outcomes resulting from modular study. The call for evidence is open until 2 November 2023. We’re keen to hear from providers and anyone else with an interest in the regulation of quality and outcomes in higher education.
As part of the call for evidence, our LLE team is currently enjoying wide-ranging conversations with higher education providers, students, representative bodies and other stakeholders about our future approach.
There are currently two categories available to providers applying to register with the OfS. Later this year, we’ll be consulting on the development of a third category of registration to allow providers offering Advanced Learner Loan provision to apply for inclusion in the OfS Register.
Delivering positive outcomes for students
The LLE has real potential to transform higher education in England. We will develop our regulatory approach in a way that allows providers to make the most of the opportunities presented by the LLE, while protecting the interests of students and the taxpayer.
The OfS’s regulation of the LLE will have the same aim as our existing regulation: to ensure that higher education is delivering positive outcomes for students.
If you have any questions about the LLE, email us at [email protected].