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Statement on Labour's Adult Education Proposals

Adult education is currently at a crisis point with the lowest levels of participation in two decades. The Labour Party is seriously considering how to address these issues with a hugely ambitious proposal. The party has today announced that it would create an entitlement for six years of free education. The range of qualifications that appear to be included in this entitlement encompasses fully funded provision at level 3 and the equivalent of six years of publicly funded credits at level 4 and above. These recommendations follow from the final report of Labours Lifelong Learning Commission which was released this month. At this stage it is unclear where courses at level 2 and below will fit into this entitlement, and how they fit within the broader scheme of Labours National Education Service. It is also unclear if at this stage whether learners who have historic debts either through tuition fees or advance learner loans would be able to use their entitlement to offset the principal on the debt.

There is also a question about the overall cost of the policy. The spending proposals are estimated by Labour to come in at £2.6 billion on education entitlement, and a further £573 million on maintenance grants in 2023-24. It will be interesting to see whether this is inclusive of the overall £1.9 billion for the adult education budget or in addition to it. The estimates will depend to a great extent on what the demand to utilise the entitlement looks like. Previous experiences from the Labour Government in the early 2000s through the implementation of Individual Learner Accounts, show that unexpectedly high levels of demand led to an overspend on the original budget of around 30%. When other factors like the impacts of scrapping University tuition fees for adults are considered, it could well be that the overall costs of the policy may be higher than the estimated £3.1 billion. We will look forward to hearing more details of this policy from the Shadow Education Secretary and in the Labour parties manifesto.

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