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Is your institution prepared for the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE)? SUMS Associate Consultant Sally Turnbull outlines the steps you can take to ensure your university is ready for a landscape where learning can be assembled piece-by-piece.

The development of the LLE is still very much work in progress for the Department for Education (which owns LLE policy and statutory regulations), the Student Loans Company (which will administer the system and is leading on stakeholder engagement), and the Office for Students (which will regulate all providers funded by the LLE). As such, there are several unanswered questions at this stage, and we will have to wait until late-May before training on eligibility rules and new system requirements are rolled out.

While we await further specific details, there are some steps that providers can take to ensure they are as prepared as possible for this change.

Stay informed

Firstly, stay informed: if your institution doesn’t already have a designated lead for LLE, now would be the time to address this. The DfE has a dedicated LLE webpage and you can sign up to alerts about changes. The SLC also has some growing online resources. SLC workshops are taking place from May, so look out for information about these. A technical consultation is scheduled for this summer – make sure you provide feedback.

Provision of course data to the SLC

The next practical thing to do is to plan for the need to spend more time and effort on the provision of course data to the SLC. As a rough guide, the estimate is that this first year will require double the work because of the additional information that will be needed under the new approach, plus the need to supply information relating to continuing students who are funded through the current system. And institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also be affected by this if they admit English students.

Under the LLE, funding will be driven by the number of academic credits being studied, rather than the length of time spent studying, or whether a student is full- or part-time. As a result, fees policies, Access and Participation Plan fees sections, and communications around fees to applicants will need to be re-written. This will be essential to ensure a smooth transition and continued compliance with Competition and Markets Authority requirements.

Standalone modules

The introduction of funding for standalone modules will launch in 2027, but now is the time to consider which courses we might want to open up for study in this way. There are lots of factors at play here, including demand, how modular courses might work alongside the traditional models of delivery, and the requirement for each module to have a minimum value of 30 credits for it to be fundable (although smaller units can be combined to reach the minimum). Broader considerations include how the support needs of students studying in this way might differ, and what eligibility they should have for hardship funding.

Opportunities and risks

There are several opportunities here, including the removal of the Equivalent or Lower Qualification (ELQ) rule, and the fee limit for accelerated study is also being ditched. Are there areas of our portfolio that we can open up to people wanting to change career?

But there are also some risks – or at least potentially impactful changes to business as usual. For example, the current payment profile of fees to providers in instalments of 25%, 25% and 50% may change, affecting cashflow and banking covenants. Some internal systems and processes will need to change to enable the supply of accurate information to the SLC and to applicants, and there will need to be some changes to statutory reporting.

The OfS will be regulating all LLE-funded activity and is considering appropriate mechanisms for this. It has already announced that it will introduce a split indicator for Higher Technical Qualifications in its outcome measures. For other things like how Access and Participation Plans and TEF are affected, it’s a case of ‘watch this space’.

Following the painful lessons of the Data Futures programme, with its multiple revisions and last-minute delays, it is encouraging to see that government recognises the need to ensure timescales for delivery are appropriate to the scale of change. But there’s a lot for us all to do to make this major change work.

With expertise covering strategy and strategic planning processes the team at SUMS Consulting would be happy to help in supporting conversations further.

If you wish to discuss these topics further or need any additional information, please contact Sally on sums@reading.ac.uk

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