Aveek Bhattacharya, Chief Economist, Social Market Foundation

The Government’s new Skills and Post-16 Education Bill offers a “once in a generation” opportunity to restore the UK’s neglected adult education system and provide learners with a second chance after the pandemic, the Social Market Foundation (@SMFthinktank) has said

Welcoming pledges in the Queen’s Speech to “enable flexible access to high-quality education and training throughout people’s lives”, the SMF, a cross-party think-tank, called on the Treasury to back up the promises with a multi-year funding settlement for the provision of adult education.  

The SMF said making skills and adult education a post-pandemic national priority was a welcome sign that politicians recognise the importance of Further Education and vocational training, which have been neglected and underfunded for too long.  

Previous SMF research "(Adult) education, education, education" has shown that funding for adult education (excluding apprenticeships) has nearly halved since 2009/10 whilst participation rates have suffered fallen by 49% since 2004. It is estimated that £1.3bn is required to reverse funding cuts since 2009/10. 

The 2021 Comprehensive Spending Review must back up the Government’s skills promises with significant funding increases and a long-term financial settlement, the SMF said.   

The new legislation will introduce a Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) as part of a Lifelong Skills Guarantee, providing learners with flexible funding for the equivalent of four years of post-18 education.  

The SMF said the new entitlement should be an effective measure to boost participation in adult education but must be introduced as part of a simplified post-18 education funding landscape.

The SMF has previously called for funding to be consolidated into Singapore-style individual learner accounts which ‘follow the learner’. 

The Government has indicated the LLE will be introduced by 2025 at the latest. The SMF said that every effort should be made to deliver the new system as quickly as possible. 

The SMF also warned that the measures would have to be carefully designed to avoid “turf wars” between universities and colleges. Greater investment in and support for tertiary education should encourage collaboration between Further and Higher Education providers.  

However, the Government’s emphasis on expanding, higher technical qualifications like Higher National Certificates could lead to conflict between colleges and universities seeking to provide these courses, as previous SMF research "Study buddies?" has shown.  

“For too long, governments have neglected the provision of adult education, skills and training. In the face of the biggest economic crisis since WWII, it is a welcome step to see this Government proposing legislation to ensure every adult can get the skills they need to get on and thrive in work. 

“Boosting skills and training can help Britain address its productivity and wage growth slump. Much depends on the detail of the Bill, but it has the potential to make a real difference by improving flexibility and affordability for learners, and securing more stable, long-term funding for colleges.” 

Aveek Bhattacharya, Chief Economist, Social Market Foundation

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