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Age should not be a barrier to higher level learning

Published date

The Lifelong learning bill has just completed its second reading in parliament. The TUC and unions have long campaigned for strengthened rights and support for lifelong learning to improve the working lives of our members. However, the bill raises significant concerns, specifically in relation to access for workers over the age of 60 and adult learners with qualifications below level 4. Level 4 qualifications are equivalent to the first year of a university degree and are taken after A-Levels.

This bill clearly counteracts against the Chancellor’s announcement of “returnerships”, aimed at the over 50s to up skill and re skill to get back into work.

What does the Lifelong loan entitlement (LLE) mean for adult learners?

Government plans for LLE will introduce:

1.     A new system of student finance which gives adult learners access to tuition and maintenance loans for courses at levels 4 and 6, including higher technical qualifications.

2.     The concept of ‘course year’ as opposed to an ‘academic year’ which will support more flexible patterns of study, including flexibility to study in a modular way.

3.     An online account which will detail learners loan entitlement and which courses and modules you can spend it on.

4.     A loan entitlement equivalent to four years post 18 education fees – currently £37,000, to use over your lifetime.

The education secretary, Gillian Keegan, said:

“Lifelong learning is critical to career progression, helping to fill skills gaps and boost the economy, which is why this overhaul to our student finance system is so important.”

While TUC fully supports and welcomes these sentiments, we are concerned that the Minister’s approach to lifelong learning only extends to adults who already have high levels of qualifications and plans to cut off access to entitlements at 60 discriminates against older workers.

Impact on older workers

The government’s decision to impose an arbitrary age cut off point at 60 will have a huge impact on older workers, who are less likely to be offered upskilling and retraining opportunities by their employers and are less likely to have formal qualifications than younger colleagues.

A recent report by CIPD (Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development) highlighted[1] 

Young workers are twice as likely to have had recent off the job training as workers over 60s whilst, 22% of workers over 60 strongly disagree that their job offers good opportunities for career progression with.

The bill could fall foul of equality law, discriminating against workers aged 60 and over, who are still in the workplace.

By the time the LLE is fully rolled out, the retirement age will be 67 and many people will need or choose to work beyond this point.

"A real Lifelong Learning policy would give workers of any age access to the training they need."  

Government should remove any arbitrary age limit. If they are serious about supporting older workers to upskill and retrain to stay in work.

Impact on learners without fewer qualifications

The bill introduces the option of a flexible, modular way of studying which TUC welcomes, but the issue is, it is aimed at level 4-6 adult learners.

This compounds the barriers to learning faced by workers with fewer formal qualifications who are the most likely to be trapped in low paid, low skilled work. These learners would benefit the most from increased opportunities via the LLE to upskill and retrain.

The pathways for learners who have not gained a level 3 qualification and below should be strengthened. Government should reverse the decade of cuts to adult education budgets, halt the scrapping of over 3,500 Level 2 and below qualifications and introduce an expansive new set of rights to training and upskilling in the workplace.

The scheme will be phased in 2025. From 2027, the scheme will expand to other level 4 to 6 qualifications. 

Further information

The Lifelong learning bill followed the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) consultation which was open from 24th February 2022 to 6th May 2022. Ten months on, following the second reading in parliament and pressure from MPs the response was released. Further information can be found here CP 801 – Department for Education – Lifelong Loan Entitlement – Government consultation response – March 2023 (

Next stage of the bill Committee stage 21st – 28th March 2023

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