A vast sum set aside for a key upskilling scheme has not been spent, a freedom of information request has revealed.
The FOI request found that £1.2bn pledged by the government as part of the Advanced Learner Loan scheme was never spent.
Education provider Emeritus, which requested the information, calculated that more than 1.5 million adults have missed out on the opportunity to gain new skills as a result.
In the past year alone, £97m of funding wasn’t spent, with more than 120,000 adults missing out on skills courses.
Emeritus found that the Advanced Learner Loan programme, which is designed to help adults to acquire new skills, has significantly underspent every single year it has been operating.
Those who have used the scheme on average receive £770, according to the latest government figures. With more than £1.2bn of the scheme not being spent, this means more than 1.5 million adults have not had the opportunity to develop new skills during the life of the programme, said Emeritus.
On average the Department for Education underspent by 42% each year, with the largest underspend happening in 2016/17 where 61% of the funds allocated to reskilling adults remained unused. In the last year alone, £97m of the funding to retrain adults was not spent by the department, which would have been enough to allow 126,000 adults to access courses to help them retrain or develop new skills.
This data comes as the government’s consultation on a new Lifelong Loan Entitlement to encourage more adults to upskill closes.
Emeritus, which carried out the analysis and works with universities like Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge to develop affordable online courses, said in light of this data the government must reform its approach.
It called for ministers to introduce a new Earned Learning Entitlement to provide grants, rather than loans, to fund high-level skills and boost uptake, and relax existing restrictions to make it easier for those already qualified to get the new skills they need.
Without reform, the business argues that “the same decisions that resulted in over £1bn of skills funding being left unspent, will happen all over again.”
Anand Chopra-McGowan, general manager, UK & Europe (Enterprise) at Emeritus, said that while the skills revolution had become the mantra of the government, the new data painted a worrying picture. “Year in year out, the government is missing its target to help reskill adults across the country even with funding available,” he said.
“Developing skills in adulthood couldn’t be more important. As new technology and industries emerge, the UK workforce must upskill to keep pace, preparing today for tomorrow’s workplace.”
But with the consultation on the new Lifelong Learning Entitlement, the government now had a chance of correcting previous errors, said Chopra-McGowan. “From opening up the eligibility requirements so more adults on more courses can apply for funding, to working more closely with businesses so that this scheme can help them to upskill their employees, the government cannot just carry on as before as this approach clearly isn’t working.
“Without genuine reform, the same decisions that resulted in over £1bn of skills funding being left unspent, will happen all over again.”
The Department for Education has been contacted by Personnel Today for a response.
Meanwhile, at Davos, Switzerland, today, and World Economic Forum event on global jobs heard that upskilling workers was crucial for businesses in the new tech arena suffering from skills shortages.