HC Deb 19 June 2002 vol 387 cc338-40W
Mr. Gray

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what was the uptake of individual educational allowances in each year since 1997; [62466]

(2) what categories of educational opportunity the IEA has been used for since 1997; [62338]

(3) what would be the total cost of individual educational allowances if each serviceman made use of it; [62339]

(4) what the value is to an individual serviceman of the individual education allowance; [62337]

(5) if he will make a statement about individual educational allowances for the armed services. [62467]

Mr. Ingram

I assume that the hon. Member is referring to what is now known as the learning credits scheme. This scheme comprises two forms of allowance: standard learning credits and enhanced learning credits.

The standard learning credits scheme (SLC) was launched on 1 April 1999 and operates on similar lines to the individual refund scheme (IRS) it replaced, but its value, £175 per year, is 25 per cent. higher. Individuals must contribute at least 20 per cent. of the cost of any learning for which it is claimed. The SLC can, therefore, fund up to 80 per cent. of the cost of learning. This 80/20 split encourages development of individual understanding and buy-in to the learning process.

Both the SLC and the IRS which preceded it are applicable to a wide range of learning purposes in support of an individual's personal development. The only limitation is that the learning must have a benefit to the services, but, in practice, this still allows almost all forms of development. A representative list of the range of courses includes:

  • GCSE—e.g. Maths, English, Psychology, Physics, Accounting, Geography
  • A-Level—e.g. Law, Sociology, Economics
  • AS Levels—French
  • OU modules
  • Degrees
  • City and Guilds teaching certificates for basic skills
  • Book keeping and accounts
  • Business studies
  • Accounting
  • Counselling
  • Sports therapy
  • Human physiology and health
  • NVQs of all types
  • Language training
  • Computer courses
  • European computer driving licence
  • Microsoft Office user specialist
  • IT practitioner courses
  • C++ programming
  • Windows 2000 networking
  • Microsoft Project.

The uptake of IRS/SLC since 1997 for the armed forces is shown in the table.

FY Number of


Trained strength

of armed forces

claimants as a

percentage of

trained strength

1997–98 18,297 297,523 8.5
1998–99 11,580 192,155 6
1999–2000 12,773 189,574 6.7
2000–01 21,779 187,874 11.6
2001–02 24,550 186,610 13.2
1 Army figures unavailable.
2 Excludes Army.

The second part of learning credits, which will be known as enhanced learning credits (ELC), complements the SLC scheme and is due to be launched on 1 April 2004. This is an imaginative and large-scale initiative to provide partial funding for personnel wishing to undertake academic or vocational education for their own personal development. ELC will enable personnel to access a considerably higher level of sponsorship than SLC and is available for a maximum of three claims (one in each of three separate years which need not be consecutive) during a service person's career and for up to 10 years after leaving the service.

The ELC scheme requires a minimum period of service in order to qualify and there are two levels of claim depending on length of service. The initial qualification period is four years' service after which an individual can claim the lower tier level of funding (£1,000 pa). A further four years' service allows access to the higher tier of funding (£2,000 pa). As with the SLC scheme, an individual must show commitment to learning by funding at least 20 per cent. of the overall cost.

The enhanced learning credit scheme will enable the individual to make substantial plans for self improvement in a coherent and long-term fashion and will also encourage employing officers to factor major lifelong learning activities into a subordinate's personal development plan. This will have a positive effect on retention of personnel who wish to lay the foundations for success in their second career while maximising their military potential.

Based on the strength of the armed forces on 1 April 2002 (204,686) and the maximum available credit (£175) the total cost of SLC if every service person were to apply would be some £36 million. However, this does not take account of personnel on operations or already in intensive training who would be unlikely to claim; moreover, it does not reflect the historical take-up of the SLC scheme. Taking this into account, and using the latest figures in the table, a more realistic total cost would be some £4 million.