The UK government has announced a significant overhaul to the student finance system in England, aimed at making courses more flexible and accessible. Under the new plans, people can access loans worth up to £37,000, equivalent to four years of post-18 education, throughout their lives. This lifelong loan entitlement (LLE) will enable students to study university and college courses a module at a time or part-time, from the age of 18 up to 60. The government hopes this will help people balance training or studies alongside other commitments, such as childcare.

However, maintenance loans will only be available for in-person courses, which has raised concerns about equity for remote learners. The Open University, which teaches 47% of the UK's part-time undergraduates, has criticized the absence of maintenance loans for distance learners as a "major inequity" in the plans. Maintenance loans are essential for students to fund their living costs while they are studying, and the absence of this support could force some students to abandon their studies. In addition, the Open University has stated that many students are forced to prioritize working more hours or paying bills. The absence of maintenance loans may worsen the situation.

Despite these concerns, many in the education sector have welcomed the new plans. The LLE will allow people to borrow money to study technical and part-time courses and provide loans to learn an equivalent or lower level of qualification than they already have. These changes will come into effect in 2025 for technical capabilities at levels 4 and 5 and in 2027 for modular funding for more qualifications, including some university degrees.

Repayments for the LLE will work like the current system, with payments starting only once graduates earn more than the repayment threshold. Graduates of three-year degrees will still be entitled to one year's worth of tuition-fee loan, which could fund a short course or a set of modules.

The LLE plans will be set out in the following government spending review, which is not expected until 2024. The government has not yet released details on calculating individual loan entitlements, but this information is expected in the autumn.

Some groups have raised concerns about how the new system will work. For example, insufficient childcare may prevent some people from taking up studying, even with the LLE. However, most education experts agree that the LLE will help open education and provide better value for money in higher and further education.

Overall, the changes to the student finance system in England are designed to make courses more flexible and accessible, particularly for people who want to study part-time or who need to balance their studies with other commitments. The LLE will provide loans worth up to £37,000, and people will be able to borrow money from the age of 18 up to 60. However, the absence of maintenance loans for distance learners has been criticized as a significant plan inequity. Despite this, the LLE has been welcomed by many in the education sector as a vital tool for evolving skills needs and creating a pipeline of students for the future. (source)