Cost barriers to learning at Level 3


Lifelong learning can bring a range of benefits to individuals, the economy and society. Despite this, the UK has seen a decline in the number of adults participating in learning and skills training. When asked about their barriers to learning, adults most commonly identify time and cost. Cost barriers consist of the course fees themselves, as well as wider costs, including transport, childcare, resources and equipment, and costs associated with reduced working hours.

To help address cost barriers to learning, the Government has introduced the Free Courses for Jobs offer, which is intended to help people learn new skills and prepare for the economy of the future. Eligible adults can now take a Level 3 qualification for free and can choose their course from a selection of subject areas. Whilst making these courses free aims to address cost barriers, there are still financial barriers which may prevent adults from taking up the Free Courses for Jobs offer.

Maximising the impact of this policy requires a deeper understanding of adults’ wider cost barriers to learning, beyond course fees, the relative importance of cost compared to other barriers, and whether other financial support would make a difference to take up. Future policy development also requires a better understanding of adults’ awareness of existing government financial support, as well as their experience of accessing this and whether it is sufficient to cover costs.

This research, carried out by Learning and Work Institute on behalf of the Department for Education, provides evidence on:

  • The financial barriers that learners face
  • How learning impacts on individuals’ financial circumstances
  • How learners support themselves financially whilst learning
  • Learners’ knowledge and experience of existing financial support
  • The extent to which financial support towards wider cost barriers would incentivise adults to take up the Level 3 offer.