Reallocate apprentice funds to colleges to offer students a ‘plan B’

11 Nov 2020

Colleges are calling for unused apprenticeship funds to be reallocated to support the increased number of students who have enrolled in colleges, helping them develop skills which will help them find jobs when the economy picks up again.

AoC data reveals that around 20,000 unfunded students are studying in colleges this year whilst apprenticeship opportunities have plummeted in the wake of the pandemic. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of colleges have seen an increase in 16-18 enrolments whilst college costs have soared as they keep learning and training going and keep staff and students safe. This year’s increase in college 16-18 funding (around £225m) has been absorbed by the additional costs of Covid – PPE, cleaning, technology, transport, extra staff etc. 

Apprenticeship starts have fallen 60% in comparison to the levels seen during 2019 and for 16 to 18-year-olds, the drop is even greater, at 79%. With many workplaces shut or unable to take on apprentices, the reduced numbers are likely to remain in 2021 and 2022. Meanwhile, young people have enrolled in their thousands in colleges as a safe haven and a positive place to develop skills which will help them in the labour market in the future. Colleges have adapted their study programmes to meet this new need, but they are not funded for additional learners because of the lagged learner number approach. 

AoC believes the unspent money in the apprentice training budget should immediately be transferred to where the learners are – in college, wanting to improve their work and life chances. That will ensure that young people get the skills and training they need for when the labour market begins to create apprenticeship opportunities again. 

AoC’s Chief Executive, David Hughes said: 

“Sadly, many young people have not been able to secure the apprenticeship they want, so have turned to their local college to provide the training and education they know will help them when the jobs market picks up. Colleges have welcomed them, designed study programmes to meet their specific needs and want to help them get ready for the future. Unfortunately, though, the funding system which works well in a stable world, is not designed for such big in-year growth. In many cases it means that colleges are supporting hundreds of unfunded learners at a time when Covid has already increased their costs and put pressure on their budgets. 

At no extra cost to Treasury, a redirection of unusable apprenticeship funds to colleges could help these young people pave a way to a promising future. We want this to be for the next two years, giving time for the labour market to pick up again and businesses to recover from the downturn. By which point thousands of young people will be work-ready and have the skills employers will need to get back on their feet.” 

  • Under these plans, funds would be reallocated while working out over the next 12 months whether the fall in apprenticeship take up at 16 and 17 is a permanent (structural) feature of the system or a temporary (cyclical) one. The decision on that point should be used to determine what happens to apprenticeship funding in 2022 and beyond. 
  • AoC data included was collected from 40% of England’s colleges in October 2020