How can migrant communities be supported to access adult learning through the Adult Education Budget?

By Jack Bradstreet, Researcher at Learning and Work Institute


12 01 2024


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In recent years, the UK has seen a notable inflow of migration following geopolitical events in Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Hong Kong, with net migration reaching 672,000 between June 2022 and 2023. In response, the UK Government has launched new resettlement schemes for arrivals from Ukraine and Afghanistan, as well as visas for Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas). 2022 also saw a significant increase in overall applications for asylum, reaching the highest number since 2002.

As these migrant communities arrive and begin to settle in the UK, it is important we support them to access education and training, not only for social integration, but to unlock their skills, talent and potential that can both improve their own wellbeing and contribute to the economic growth and competitiveness of the national economy.

The Adult Education Budget (AEB) plays a pivotal role in the provision of adult skills programmes for migrant communities. With an annual allocation of approximately £1.5 billion (although this figure has declined by nearly 50% in the last decade), the AEB funds a diverse range of learning opportunities for individuals aged 19 and above, including adult community education. While many migrants will use this funding to learn English through ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes, the AEB is equally important for widening access to training in other key areas, such as maths and digital skills.

Using AEB funding flexibilities to increase support

Since the devolution of the AEB in 2019, Mayoral Combined Authorities have been granted some flexibility to align AEB policy with local priorities. The Greater London Authority (GLA) has used this flexibility to address the unique needs of London’s diverse population and, in response to international events and new resettlement routes, introduced a series of strategic changes to the AEB funding rules and eligibility criteria.

On behalf of the GLA, Learning and Work Institute (L&W) completed the research project Supporting London’s Migrant Communities Through the Adult Education Budget. This research demonstrated that the flexibilities introduced by the GLA have had positive impacts, such as simplified delivery of AEB-funded provision, improved communication between education providers and their referral partners, and an overall increase in the number of people from migrant communities who are eligible to access adult education.

Supporting London’s Migrant Communities through the Adult Education Budget

However, migrant communities continue to face a wide range of socioeconomic barriers, such as the demands of childcare, housing instability (particularly for people seeking asylum), conflicting work commitments, financial hardship, the increasing costs of transport, and digital poverty. There also remain several individual and cultural barriers, including mental ill-health, a lack of language proficiency, and unfamiliarity with the UK’s adult education system.

Furthermore, the research identified limitations of the flexibilities, such as the fact that people seeking asylum must still wait six months before becoming eligible for AEB-funded education. There also remain areas of complexity in the eligibility criteria that have caused confusion among curriculum staff, leading to the exclusion of eligible individuals. Awareness of AEB funding and eligibility amongst both migrant communities and education providers themselves is low due to inconsistent information flow, instances of incorrect eligibility information, and a lack of time or resources to stay updated on AEB funding or eligibility.

What more can be done to support migrant communities?

To further support migrant communities to access the AEB-funded education and training required to make social connections and move into good work, L&W addresses the following recommendations to the GLA:

  1. Ensure sufficient flexibility for the funding of non-accredited, bespoke learning, such as flexible ESOL courses and online options.
  2. Fully fund learning for people who are on a joint Universal Credit statement but who are not themselves in work. This would be of particular benefit to women, who comprise the majority of this group.
  3. Implement a co-funding income scale based on a small number of incremental points for co-funding learners earning above the London Living Wage.

In response to provider and stakeholder feedback, the GLA could also communicate with the Department for Education about expanding AEB eligibility for people seeking asylum who have been in the UK for less than 6 months.

Although the GLA has a clear role in strategically influencing the implementation of the following four recommendations, taking them forward also requires the involvement and commitment of providers, local authorities, and wider migration stakeholders.

  1. Establish Single Points of Contact (SPOC) for ESOL in boroughs with substantiated demand and currently without such a service to improve coordination of ESOL demand.
  2. Increase financial support for individuals undertaking ESOL initial teacher training to address tutor shortages.
  3. Enhance support for third sector organisations serving migrant communities to deliver informal ESOL via the AEB.
  4. Strengthen AEB guidance by offering consistent, up-to-date information on eligibility criteria and local funding flexibility for skills provision.