Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by Birkbeck, University of London, to the Public Bill Committee (Skills and Post 16 Education Bill) (SPEB08)

1. Birkbeck, part of the University of London is the UK’s only majority part-time face to face teaching institution and the only one that teaches exclusively in the evenings. Birkbeck has for nearly 200 years provided opportunities outside of usual working hours to obtain a prestigious University of London degree (Level 6). Birkbeck also offers sub-degree qualifications at Certificate and Foundation Year (Level 4 & 5) and postgraduate qualifications (Level 7 & 8) as part of its offer. As of 2021 there are approx. 10,000 FTE students at Birkbeck and during the pandemic offered blended learning enhancing classroom and online learning. Many of our students are over 21 and have additional commitments such as caring or parental responsibilities in addition to being in work.

2. Birkbeck’s concerns relate largely to Part 1, Chapter 3, Clause 15-18 and the creation of the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE).


3. Birkbeck’s main concern in the Bill is the creation of the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE) which we understand seeks to give every citizen a four-year entitlement at Level 4-6 (e.g.: HND, Foundation Degree, Bachelors degree etc.) by 2025. This entitlement can be taken in either FE or HE and will replace the current Student Loans system. The difference between the LLE and the current Student Loans system will be the ability of the LLE to fund courses through modules and a credit system so students, if they wish, can use credit over a longer period of time to build a degree. Or they can study for a traditional full-time three-year Bachelors degree and use the fourth year of funding for an FE qualification or a collection of modules in HE.

4. Birkbeck is very supportive of a more flexible student finance system, and we share along with the Government there is untapped demand for short courses (in a modular form) or a way of incentivising people to spread out their learning rather than front loading a Bachelors degree aged 19 based on (largely) what people studied at school. This is particularly true as people are living and working longer. The missing part of the education system in the UK is Level 4 and 5 – HND, Foundation Degree level – and latterly there has been no incentive for institutions to teach these over a full Honours degree. It is of course possible and even encouraged that HND students could top-up to a full degree after two years study at HND level. As there is no incentive to offer Level 4 & 5 in HEIs, students opt for a Bachelors degree all take in one go. The LLE will of course still make it possible for those students that wish to, to undertake a regular three-year full-time course of study.

5. We wish to seek further clarification on the following:

Equivalent or Lower Qualifications (ELQ)

6. Current student finance rules dictate that no one who already holds a degree in one subject will be eligible for student support for another – so no tuition fee loan or maintenance loan. There are a handful of exemptions on this in largely STEM subjects. This presently leaves a raft of Business, Economics, Law, Psychology and Languages qualifications that attract no support if you already hold a degree. This is the same if you wish to study at a lower level e.g.: a HND in an FE College. Members of the House of Lords raised this anomaly and the need to correct this in the creation of the LLE.

7. Lords DfE Ministers have expressed fears that students could use up their LLE allowance by repeatedly using it on the same course if ELQ exemptions were lifted. The question is – why would this happen? Age limits are already in place for accessing student support if you have previously studied. Measures could be put in place to prevent repeat study on the same course easily as part of the Bill. In Birkbeck’s long experience we have found most students who fall foul of the ELQ regulations are those wishing to reskill into new employment or industries. Not those on repeat or ‘leisure’ courses. These restrictions hamper the flow of talent and need to be scrapped.

8. In particular, London would be heavily hit as it attracts the highest amounts of graduates in the country (57% of London’s workforce has a degree) and could impact its effectiveness as a global city. It seems perverse that the Government provide fee support for Postgraduate Masters courses rather than at the same level. While Postgraduate study is important there will be many students who are undertaking Masters programmes just because loan support is available – rather than undertaking the right course for them.

Maintenance Support

9. Maintenance support (now through the Student Loans system) has been an important feature of Student Finance since the 1990s. Maintenance support was largely designed to facilitate a move away from the parental home to pursue study. This is still something we wish to retain and is important for full-time students. It is however important for mature learners and those studying part-time in order to pay for child-care etc. The Department for Education have said very little about this and what form this might take. It would be very detrimental to social mobility not to have any maintenance support included alongside the LLE.

Four year or longer entitlement

10. It has been stated at all times through the Bill that the LLE will provide for a four-year equivalent Lifelong Learning Entitlement. While this may be sufficient for some there are various examples of where four years will not be enough and in fact detrimental to what is now available. For example, it is not uncommon to study a Foundation Year then a three-year full-time course straight after and use up all of your entitlement in one go. Equally there are four-year Bachelors degrees with Languages or Year Abroad components that may fall foul of this plus the need for this to work for Architecture, Medicine or Veterinary Degrees all of whom are 5-6 year courses. Birkbeck realises the four-year limit will be Treasury driven but could a consideration be given to a review after the four years? If evidence emerges that four years is insufficient can this be revisited?

Birkbeck, University of London

29 November 2021


Prepared 30th November 2021