From education to employment

Making the most of loans’ strategies for providers

Last week the first real piece of further education loans publicity came across my desk–or more accurately my screen.

Of course there have been many examples of Government information from the Skills Funding Agency and the Student Loans Company.

All good stuff. Sectors bodies have done their bit too. Great information from the Association of Colleges, Association of Employment and Learning Providers, the trades unions and most recently by the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS). Already there is a plethora of FAQs and fact sheets on what are now branded as ‘24+ advanced learning loans’.

Taken together, all reflect the received wisdom about loans; what we think they will be like, the pros and cons and the possible pitfalls.

So it was good to see This is Lincolnshire talking about the loans as if they were something people over the age of 24 might actually want to benefit from. Well done to Boston College for presumably working with the local press to promote loans.

Let’s hope it is not too late to get that message out.

We now know that the amount of government funding for 24 year olds wanting to take a level 3 qualification is around a quarter of a billion pounds in the 2013/4 academic year. That’s a lot of money, and potentially a lot of learners. The colleges coming to NIACE events generally have between 1000 and 2000 learners in this category.

But they are also concerned about the effects on other parts of their business, as it is hard to isolate those level 3 learners aged 24 and over, from the rest of your learners.

Such providers are looking at their strategies for recruitment and, crucially with loans, retention as well as their modes of delivery – such as blended learning.    They tell us that the only way to crack this is via a whole organisation approach. That everyone in their organisation needs to be briefed.  It is most definitely not a ‘student services issue’. The visionary leaders also see that this policy could be the thin end of the wedge with loans possibly being a brought in for a wider range of learners/customers – at level 2 perhaps or at 21 plus – in the next few years.

The NIACE team working on this have developed an organisational risk assessment that is based on research into the learner/customer journey. This involves looking at each stage of the learner journey (engagement, application, recruitment, on-course, progression) defining the precise risk and quantifying the likelihood and impact and coming up with mitigation strategies.

Our research has also shown that some providers will decide to walk away from this provision, and that others will under-perform due to the slow start they have made in preparing for loans, so there will be opportunities for many to increase their market share.  Early signs from the introduction of HE loans for part-time undergraduates, (albeit in a market constrained by the Equivalent and Lower Qualification policy that does not exist in FE), is that all but the very best marketeers will struggle. The Open University is a world leader in educational marketing and student services.  There will be a lot to learn from their approach to marketing part-time Higher Education opportunities especially for those less adult friendly institutions.

Next week (Tuesday 16th) we are running our first training sessions with providers on using our new customer journey risk assessment tool within a whole organisation approach. We hope to roll-out this training fully in the New Year, alongside the useful materials being developed by LSIS.

All this means that colleges and Further Education providers need new approaches to developing their responses to the introduction of loans.  Toolkits will not be enough.  It will require strategic thinking, training for all staff and behaviour change. Not just for the first two years of Advanced Learning Loans but what could come after that.

Mark Ravenhall is director of policy and impact at NIACE, which encourages all adults to engage in learning

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