Updated 1 June 2020
Whether you have just left school or are looking to return to study or train in a new skill as an adult, the government funds a wide range of further education opportunities.
Further education refers to any study taken after age 16 that is not part of a higher education programme (such as an undergraduate or graduate/postgraduate degree).
Courses may be done online or in-person at a school, college or other further education provider. They can range from essential skills, such as English and maths qualifications, vocational skills or HNDs, equivalent to the first year of a degree.
Many of these courses are free or, in some cases, students may be eligible for funding from the government.
In this article, we look at the funding and courses that are available, and explore who is eligible and the qualifications that you could gain.
The type of funding you are eligible for will depend on your age and the qualifications you have already gained, as well as factors such as the course you are applying for, your household income and whether you need any additional support.
If you are aged between 16 and 19 then you are eligible to apply for fully funded learning via a sixth form college or further education college. These programmes are funded by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and are usually full time and college-based.
They will include studying for vocational or technical qualifications, along with work experience or placements and maths and/or English qualifications if needed.
If you are studying in England, you may also be eligible for the 16-19 Bursary Fund, which helps with costs related to your course, such as books, equipment, travel and food.
You must be studying at a school or college or be enrolled on an unpaid training course to qualify, and you could receive up to £1,200.
There are two strands to the bursary:
The system in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is different and you will need to apply for an Education Maintenance Allowance. More information is available via mygov.scot for Scottish students, Student Finance Wales in Wales and nidirect in Northern Ireland.
Again, systems vary in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so check the relevant websites given above for available funding.
If you are 19 or over then accessing government funding for further education courses is slightly more complicated. However, there are still a range of funding options available.
If you are unemployed and earn less than £15,736 per year, then you should be eligible for a fully-funded further education course up to Level 2.
And if you are aged between 19 and 24 and do not already have a full Level 3 qualification, you may be able to access a fully funded course to qualify at this level.
If you do not meet either of the criteria above but want to study towards a further education qualification, you can apply for an Advanced Learner Loan to help towards college or training costs.
The minimum loan is £300 and the maximum you can receive depends on what you are studying and the course fees. The loan is paid directly to your course provider and may not cover the course fees in full. In this case, you will have to pay the difference yourself.
To qualify for an Advanced Learner Loan you must be 19 or over when you start your course and studying at Level 3, 4, 5 or 6. You must also have been living in the UK for at least three years when your course begins. There is no credit check for the loan and it is not dependent on your household income.
In most cases, you can apply for up to four loans at once and may receive more than one at the same time.
If you are taking A-Levels, you can apply for a loan to fund the courses needed to complete up to four A-Levels. You can also get an additional three loans for non-A-Level courses you take before or after your A-Levels.
You can only apply once for a loan for an Access to Higher Education course.
You will be charged interest on the loan from the day you receive your first payment. This is charged at RPI plus 3% while you’re studying, then RPI plus up to 3% depending on your earnings.
You will start repaying the loan when your income passes the threshold, currently set at £25,725 per year.
You will need to check with your education or training provider that your course qualifies for this funding and ask them for an information letter. You can then apply online through the gov.uk website.
If you need additional support, you may also be eligible for the Loan Bursary Fund, which offers help with costs such as childcare, course materials and accommodation. You will need to apply for this through your course provider and each will have its own application process.
The money may be paid directly to you or a landlord or childcare provider. Usually, it does not need to be repaid but this is not always the case, so confirm the terms with your provider.
You might also be able to apply for Learner Support if you are facing particular financial hardship. Again, you apply for this through your training provider and how much you receive depends on the individual scheme and your circumstances.
Apprenticeships are funded by employers and the government, and combine study with on-the-job training. As an apprentice, you do not have to contribute any money towards your study or training, and you will be paid a salary while you learn.
Apprenticeships are open to anyone over the age of 16. There are four levels of apprenticeship. Each of these has its own entry requirements, which may also vary from employer to employer.
The qualification you gain at the end of the apprenticeship depends on the level completed.
As maths and English are such fundamental skills both in work and in life, the government will fund anyone to gain their first qualification in either or both subjects up to Level 2.
Most further education colleges and providers offer these courses so it should be fairly straightforward to find one local to you, and the programme should be funded in full.
There are many free courses available in a huge range of subjects. Below we give an overview of some of the best.
FutureLearn is a digital learning platform owned jointly by The Open University and The Seek Group.
It offers thousands of short courses in a range of categories including:
Courses are usually around 6 to 10 weeks in duration, although some are shorter. The courses are divided into weeks and each week students will receive activities to work through. No formal qualifications are needed to take the courses, although some may require specialist equipment or a certain level of understanding of the subject.
Courses can be accessed for free for a limited period. Students can upgrade to unlock unlimited access to the course and to receive a printed and digital Statement of Participation or Certificate of Achievement on successfully completing the course. Upgrade costs start from around £42.
Visit the FutureLearn website to learn more about the platform and browse its courses.
OpenLearn is another online learning platform delivered by the Open University. There are almost 1,000 free courses available in areas such as:
Some are based on Open University course material, while others have been created specifically for OpenLearn.
Anyone over the age of 13 can register for a course at any time and work through it at their own pace. There are no formal qualifications offered but you can download a free Statement of Participation once you have completed a course.
City and Guilds provides a wide range of nationally-recognised technical and vocational qualifications and apprenticeships. Many of these are fully funded by the government.
It trains students in areas including:
The most popular courses provided by City and Guilds are its National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). There are five levels and the courses may be based in a school or college, or in the workplace.
There is no age limit for students and no particular entry requirements. Assessment is based on a portfolio and observation of the student at work. There is no specified timescale for a course but it generally takes students about a year to complete Levels 1,2 or 3.
City and Guilds’ technical qualifications are specially designed for 14 to 19-year-olds and are available at Key Stage 4: Level 2 and Key Stage 5: Levels 2 and 3.
These courses train students in the specialist skills and knowledge they need to move into relevant apprenticeships, jobs or higher education. The Level 3 qualifications carry UCAS points and are recognised by most UK universities.
City and Guilds also delivers a programme of apprenticeships providing on the job training for those who are 16 or over. It works in partnership with employers in industries such as health and social care, engineering and manufacturing.
The City and Guilds website has more information on its courses and apprenticeships; you can also search for a provider near you.
Vision2Learn provides nationally accredited Level 2 qualifications in a range of vocational subjects, such as:
Fully government-funded places are available for anyone who is over 19, currently lives in England and has lived within the EU for the last three years.
The courses are entirely online but are delivered in partnership with further education colleges. As enrolled members of a college, students gain access to benefits such as the use of the college library and other drop-in facilities. The courses consist of a series of assessments and there are no set entry requirements.
Visit the Vision2Learn website for more information and to find a course.
As mentioned earlier, the government will fund maths and English courses up to Level 2 for anyone who needs to gain their first qualification in either or both subjects. Courses are provided by most further education centres.
Speak to your local college or search via the gov.uk website.
The qualification you receive will depend on the type of course you take. For some, you may simply receive a Statement of Participation or Certificate of Achievement. While these recognise the work you have done, they are not necessarily recognised as accredited qualifications.
However, many government-funded courses do offer nationally-recognised qualifications at a range of levels, from entry-level awards and certificates to Advanced Technical Diplomas and Higher National Diplomas.
You should check the course you are applying for to confirm the qualification you will receive at the end.
If you are interested in further education then cost should not be a barrier to continuing your learning. Many courses are free or funding may well be available.
So, whatever your age and whether you are looking to train for a job, gain a qualification, learn a new skill or simply broaden your knowledge of a subject, there are a wealth of opportunities to explore.
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