The Armed Forces Covenant in Action? Part 4: Education of Service Personnel - Defence Committee Contents

3  Continuing education of Armed Forces personnel

Description of the education support schemes

53. The Minister told us that the MoD supports elective learning.[69] The MoD also told us that it supports education throughout personnel's careers which had benefits for the personal development of such individuals and for retention.[70] The MoD's description of the various education support schemes available to serving personnel and those leaving the Services is set out in Table 7 below.

Table 7: Description of the education support schemes
The Standard Learning Credit (SLC) scheme, which supplies financial support, throughout the Service person's career, for multiple, small scale learning activities, is designed to enhance educational or vocational achievement. Under the SLC scheme personnel may claim 80 per cent of course fees, up to a maximum of £175 per financial year, paid to civilian bodies for certain personal development courses, examinations and support.
Complementing the SLC scheme, there is the Enhanced Learning Credit scheme (ELC) providing help to personnel who qualify with a single payment, in each of a maximum of three separate financial years, offering to pay 80 per cent of the fees up to a maximum £1k or £2k (depending on qualifying scheme membership of either 4 or 8 years' service) to help pay towards the cost of higher-level learning. The ELC scheme helps to motivate full time members of the Armed Forces to pursue their higher level personal development, both during their Service and for up to ten years afterwards, subject to the qualifying criteria being met.
An Individual Resettlement Training Costs (IRTC) grant is payable to Service Leavers (SL) with more than 6 years service to help towards the cost of resettlement training. A full refund for fees paid (up to a maximum of £534) may be claimed. IRTC may be claimed at any time in the last two years of service but normally in the last 9 months.
The Further Education/Higher Education Support Scheme provides eligible SL who have four years full-time service with fully subsidised tuition fees for a first full Level 3 or a first HE qualification, including foundation or full undergraduate degrees. SL must be registered for the ELC scheme. MOD pays a contribution per claim if any unused ELC credits remain, with BIS or the devolved administrations contributing the balance of the course fees.

Source: Ministry of Defence [71]

Learning Credits

54. Standard Learning Credits (SLCs) provides very limited financial support of up to £175 a year for a maximum of 80 per cent of any course fees. The MoD explained to us that it was often used to extend a military course. Colonel Johnstone said:

    [...] What we do in the Services, which is a little bit different—I think it is an advantage—is that we try to get as much educational benefit from the training that they are doing in service anyway, through the accreditation scheme and so on. We then encourage the individual to do the additional learning that might be needed. We actively say to people, "You have done 80 per cent of this qualification through the military course you have just completed. If you now want to get the full qualification, it will take this many credits at university, and here is the military funding system that will give you a refund towards it."[...][72]

55. Take up of SLCs has fallen since 2009-10, see Table 8 below. Annual expenditure on SLCs has also fallen from £2.8 million in 2009-10 to £1.6 million in 2010-11. In 2011-12, expenditure was some £1.9 million.[73]

Table 8: Take-up of Standard Learning Credits
No of Claims Authorised

£ million

Royal Navy 2,2650.329 20,012 claims


Army 13,1671.251
RAF 4,5800.687

RN 1,7550.250 17,964 claims


Army 13,5331.737
RAF 2,6760.401

RN 1,8070.256 18,579 claims


Army 14,6632.241
RAF 2,1550.344

RN 2,2760.314 121,010 claims


Army 6,4470.862
RAF 3,1780.488

RN 2,7290.366 14,049 claims


Army 7,7931.069
RAF 3,5270.510

Source: Ministry of Defence[74]

56. We asked the MoD why the take-up of SLAs had fallen, Admiral Williams said:

    We have also noticed that and we are looking into why that might be. The initial feedback—it is not fully worked through; this is initial responses from the training commands—is that it might be as a result of the higher profile of the apprenticeship scheme and the fact that all of those coming in feel that they are on a course or getting qualifications and moving along a line that they can recognise. That might be why we are not feeling the need to focus on and take the opportunities of the SLCs. That is possible. Operational commitments might be part of it. That drop would largely seem to be in the junior ranks. [...][75]

Colonel Johnstone added that completions of apprenticeships had increased from around 7,000 in 2007-08 to 12,000 in 2010-11.[76]

57. In response to this Report, the MoD should inform us of the results of its investigation into the fall in the take-up of Standard Learning Credits. If appropriate, the MoD should encourage greater take-up amongst Armed Forces personnel.

58. Enhanced Learning Credits (ELCs) were developed to motivate full time members of the Armed Forces to pursue higher level personal development during their service and for up to ten years afterwards. Take-up of ELCs has significantly increased recently, see Table 9 below. Correspondingly, expenditure on ELCs has risen from £5.7 million in 2007-08 to £21.5 million in 2011-12.[77]

Table 9: Take-up of Enhanced Learning Credits
Service No of Registrations No of Claims Authorised Expenditure

£ million


RN 2,9871,255 1.11213,881 registrations, 6,503 claims


Army 9,1243,316 2.978
RAF 1,7701,932 1.595

RN 3,7211,677 2.25816,048 registrations, 7,854claims


Army 9,3743,882 4.980
RAF 2,9532,295 2.845

RN 4,1271,663 2.32418,262 registrations, 7,476 claims


Army 11,6333,825 5.158
RAF 2,5021,988 2.497

RN 2,7152,115 3.00613,550 registrations, 10,389 claims


Army 8,9135,347 7.631
RAF 1,9222,927 4.014

RN 3,0062,970 4.46719,254 registrations, 14,468 claims


Army 14,2867,630 11.284
RAF 1,9623,328 5.709

Source: Ministry of Defence[78]

59. We asked the MoD how information about ELCs is communicated to personnel. Admiral Williams replied:

    They are widely advertised internally; in every unit that you visit, you should see posters. Equally, it is on the intranet, and that is where we would find increasing numbers, of our new people, particularly, looking for the information. Those who are interested in pushing ahead for an enhanced learning credit or getting accreditation for higher level education would look there, and every unit has people with education responsibilities if they are not big enough to have an education specialist officer. Part of the roles and responsibilities of that individual is to proselytise such things.[79]

Funding and the time available for education

60. We asked the MoD if learning credits and apprenticeships might be squeezed in the next round of spending reductions. Admiral Williams replied:

    That is a really difficult question. Every last bit of the armed forces is subject to scrutiny of where we are at the moment in terms of funding, and we in the education area will not be immune to any of that. That is counterpoised by the very clear advantage we get by the investment we make in our people. That is recognised very well and very clearly. It is recognised today and it is recognised in our new employment model, which we are developing at the moment. One aspect of that is to ensure that we get parts of that that have some of these credits embedded within them. In terms of policy and where we are in our thinking, the educational side is absolutely front and centre, and crucial, but I could not sit here today and say that it is in any way protected.[80]

61. The time available for education is often limited because of work pressures and operational deployments and this is likely to have been exacerbated by recent Armed Forces redundancies. We asked the Minister if personnel had enough time to participate in education. He replied:

    I believe we encourage them to do so wherever it is practical. Again, I make the point that ultimately we are training personnel to be able to conduct operations in defence of the realm. But we do encourage people to study where they can and we do our best to try to advance all of our people as far as practical bounds allow. I am sure that people will always want to have more time in some contexts, but we have a fairly good crack at it.[81]

Colonel Johnstone also said that personnel could study when deployed:

    It is a matter of mixing all that together in a blend, so that the individual, regardless of whether they are in a training establishment, a workplace or are deployed in Afghanistan or anywhere else, is able to access that support for literacy and numeracy, including electronic learning and so on.[82]

The MoD also provided some information on the numbers of personnel taking qualifications on board Royal Navy ships and in deployed locations. In 2012-13, some 3,000 Army and Navy personnel had taken civilian examinations in Afghanistan or on board ship.[83]

62. The MoD should not reduce funding for education as a result of the 2013 Spending Review. The MoD should promote education in the Armed Forces and encourage the chain of command to find time for personnel to engage in such activities.

Higher education as part of career development for senior leaders

63. We asked the MoD whether higher education was seen as a core part of career development in Future Force 2020. Admiral Williams replied:

    A lot of thought is going into higher education at the moment—where it sits and whether you need formally to stratify a rise within an officers career development programme, starting with a bachelor degree and moving through a masters. It is certainly true to say today that the Services offer foundation degrees for the basic officer training. There are other foundation degrees offered for warrant officer aircrew, [...]. So there is a foundation degree with a route to full honours, funded and paid for, for those who wish to take it.[84]

    He said that there is a debate within the Armed Forces about the possibility of an all­graduate entry for officers. He further said:

    [...] we are a little bit nervous about going quite that far, for worry that you would miss one or two people who are just not academically focused but who are very good potential officers. So there is a lot of debate at the moment. If you look at the through-career development of officers—if you look at the advanced command and staff course, for example, where a masters degree is on offer, or the Royal College of Defence studies, where similarly one is able to take such a qualification—the opportunities are certainly there, and each Service has its own focus.[85]

64. The Minister told us that education was important in producing senior officers and, in particular, in the development of strategic thinking. He added:

    There have been studies undertaken into the intellectual support needed in the Armed Forces, and into how higher levels of training and education help us to develop people and our competitive edge, both operationally and in other areas. Clearly the ability to train our senior leaders in the right way and to the right standard is as important to the Armed Forces as to any other organisation. But of course there is the additional element of military and strategic training on top of that.[86]

65. The MoD has undertaken limited research comparing qualification levels to the success of senior officers. Admiral Williams said:

    I am not sure that the research or work that we have done stands up in the way of academic rigour, but certainly all three Services have looked quite carefully at their top cohort and looked at where they have come from. [...] and we have had very many very successful senior officers—actually, very clever, academically gifted senior officers—who did not necessarily have a degree when they entered the Service. There is an issue there for me in a broader educational sense, because I would give you a personal view that I think that some people are ready at the age of 18 to take a degree, but some people are not and they get traction later on. The delight for me in the Services is that there is an opportunity. It is not easy, because you are doing a proper job at the same time, and to give yourself the time and to drive yourself hard enough to ensure that you give your academic studies enough focus is a difficult thing to do, but the opportunities are there.[87]

66. Admiral Williams also said that the MoD evaluated education in the Armed Forces regularly:

    There has been a more or less constant evaluation and re-evaluation of the educational input that we give our individuals, our officers and our senior officers. The Advanced Command and Staff Course, which takes place in the middle of an officer's career, is structured so that an MA is possible—and indeed recommended—on it. We are looking at the characteristics of that course and whether it delivers sufficiently the level of strategic studies required. It does contain a considerable proportion of strategic studies, and we continue to look at it. Only a month ago, the Defence Training Board commissioned me to do another review of our Higher Command and Staff Course, the relationship between that and the Royal College of Defence Studies, and that which we give our individuals on both those counts. [...] So this is a much reviewed, focused area of our capability. I do not think we would ever sit back and be complacent and say that we have got it right. [...] [88]

67. We asked whether the review of the Higher Command and Staff Course had been commissioned by the Defence Training Board with a view to cutting expenditure. Admiral Williams replied:

    It is capability-focused. It is about using the current resources as well and as consistently as we can between something like the Higher Command and Staff Course, which is an operationally focused course, and the Royal College of Defence Studies, which is much more of a strategic piece. It is designed to make sure we get the optimal output out of all those things.[89]

68. The MoD provided us with the terms of reference for the Review and told us that the Defence Training Board would consider the resulting report in October 2013.[90]

69. We are persuaded that, as well as recruiting graduates as officers, the provision of higher education for those in command in the Armed Forces is essential and should not be reduced by the MoD as a cost-cutting exercise. The MoD should provide us with the results of the Review of the Higher Command and Staff Course when completed and the response of the Defence Training Board to its recommendations. We will return to the subject of higher education in the Armed Forces, in particular, the need to educate personnel in strategic decision-making, as part of our work on Future Force 2020.

70. Given the increased role for reservists in Future Force 2020, we asked the MoD what it was doing to get work in the Reserve Forces accredited for civilian degree courses as happens in Australia. Admiral Williams replied:

    We are looking at every bit of accreditation as part of the whole FR20 [Future Reserve 2020] piece. There is a massive amount of work going on there, as you might imagine, and some of it will follow on the initial work on how we are going to make the thing work. But the aim is, absolutely, to align regular and reserve; the aim is to ensure that in every bit of training that we do in the Ministry of Defence, we look for accreditation where we can. That aligns not only with FR20, but in this new employment model, which sort of had its genesis in the regulars [...].[91]

The MoD provided us with the terms of reference for the above accreditation project. The results of the project are due to be considered by the Future Reserves 2020 Programme Board in October 2013.[92]

71. With the increased role envisaged for reservists in Future Force 2020, it is essential that the Armed Forces make Reserve Service as attractive as possible for the reservists and their employers. We see the education accreditation project as an important component in encouraging people to join the Reserves. The MoD should provide us with the results of this project and its implementation plans.

69   Q 46 Back

70   Ev 14 Back

71   Ev 24-25 Back

72   Q 58 Back

73   Ev 22 Back

74   Ev 22, table 7 Back

75   Q 26 Back

76   Q 27 Back

77   Ev 22 Back

78   Ev 22-23, table 8 Back

79   Q 25 Back

80   Q 28 Back

81   Q 57 Back

82   Q 17 Back

83   Ev 28, table 5 Back

84   Q 29 Back

85   Ibid Back

86   Q 61 Back

87   Q 34 Back

88   Q 61 Back

89   Q 62 Back

90   Ev 30 Back

91   Q 33 Back

92   Ev 29  Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 18 July 2013