Adults in work ‘neglected’ by education spend, government review finds

Report into the state of post-18 education calls for a learning loan system to help workers study or reskill

Adults in work should be given access to educational loans similar to students to spend on further education, upskilling or reskilling opportunities in later life, an independent report has said. 

The Augar report, the result of a 15-month long independent review of post-18 education, said it was vital in the changing labour market for the UK workforce to have access to learning and development opportunities, but that funding and attention was too often concentrated on universities and university students.

It recommended the government introduce a “lifelong learning loan allowance” for study and reskilling later in life, to be used at higher technical and degree level at any stage of an adult’s career for full and part-time learning.

It also said this funding should be made available in modules where required, to encourage retraining and flexible learning, that the government should do more to facilitate movement between different institutions, and called for greater investment in “second chance” learning at intermediate levels.

Dr Philip Augar, co-author and chair of the review, described large parts of the population as “neglected” when it came to learning opportunities, and said a more “joined-up” system was the only way to “encourage the development of the skills that we need as a country”.

“What of the neglected, the 50 per cent of the 18-30 year old population who do not go to university, and older non-graduates? Employment patterns are changing fast with shorter job cycles and longer working lives requiring many people to reskill and upskill. They too are worthy of attention,” he wrote. 

The report also called for the improvement of the apprenticeship offering following widespread concern over the current system and evidence of “a mismatch between the economy’s strategic requirements and current apprenticeship starts”.

It also raised concerns about the quality of apprenticeship programmes available and called for a strengthening of Ofsted’s role. It added that while most Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships performed well, with positive earning differentials between apprentices who undertook and completed them compared to starters who failed to complete, returns varied significantly by sector. 

Responding to the proposals, Lady Cobham, director general of The 5% Club said almost every sector of the economy was concerned about productivity and the “looming skills gap”.

“At the moment, the quality of training is too often not available to meet the needs of British business,” she said. “The review's recommendation to invest in better, more accessible further education, in areas where the workforce needs it, is vital.” 

The report was also welcomed by Lizzie Crowley, skills adviser at the CIPD: “It's great that the report focuses on how to grow the intermediate and technical skills our economy needs – and recognises the need to support individuals at all ages and stages of their careers, so that they can retrain and reskill in a fast-changing world.”

Also commenting on the report, Tim Thomas, Make UK’s director of labour market and skills, said this rebalancing of resources and focus was long overdue. “UK manufacturers that already invest heavily in both graduates and apprentices have long seen the world of vocational education and training as the poor relation,” he said.

“UK employers are paying £3.7bn annually into an apprenticeship levy they too often cannot access and the majority of public funding considered by the review, over £8bn in 2017/18, is committed to students in the higher education sector. This mismatch needs to be addressed at once.”

The government has welcomed the report, however no decisions on its recommendations will be made until the next spending review.

Earlier this week the government was called on to expand the shortage occupation list to prioritise professions such as software developers, vets and psychologists to tackle the labour market squeeze.