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3 June 2004 HEFCE logo
  LSC logo
To  Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions
Heads of LSC-funded further education colleges

Joint letter from HEFCE and the Learning and Skills Council
HEFCE Circular letter number 12/2004

For further information contact HEFCE regional consultants or LSC regional directors (see Annex B)

Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Lifelong Learning Networks

1.    HEFCE, the Learning and Skills Council, and the DfES are working on joint approaches to encouraging progression into and through higher education. We already work in partnership on the Aimhigher initiative, and we are now developing a joint strategy to advance vocational and workplace progression into and through higher education (the Joint Progression Strategy). As part of this, we are seeking to collaborate with our national, regional and local partners on a new initiative to make a step change in vocational progression – Lifelong Learning Networks. This letter explains more about our plans to develop this initiative.

2.    The first stage is to explore the scope for developing Lifelong Learning Networks in individual regions. We envisage these as groups of institutions, including higher education institutions (HEIs) and further education colleges (FECs), that come together across a city, area or region to offer new progression opportunities for vocational learners. They would:

  • combine the strengths of a number of diverse institutions
  • provide support for learners on vocational pathways
  • bring greater clarity, coherence and certainty to progression opportunities
  • develop the curriculum as appropriate to facilitate progression
  • value vocational learning outcomes and provide opportunities for vocational learners to build on earlier learning
  • locate the progression strategy within a commitment to lifelong learning, ensuring that learners have access to a range of progression opportunities so that they can move between different kinds of vocational and academic programmes as their interests, needs and abilities develop.

3.    The background to Lifelong Learning Networks (LLNs) and what they seek to achieve was set out in Sir Howard Newby’s Colin Bell Memorial Lecture. The text is available on the web at under News and events/Speeches, and we provide more detail in Annex A to this letter.


4.    We want to develop the scope for LLNs in partnership with regional and local partners, including universities and colleges. In the coming weeks HEFCE regional consultants and LSC regional directors will be discussing these proposals with HEIs, FECs and other interested parties (including Regional Development Agencies and regional and local Learning and Skills Councils) with a view to developing initial proposals for at least one LLN in each region. We have written separately to the HE Regional Associations asking for their support in developing these conversations.

5.    It is not proposed to invite bids for LLN funding at this stage. Regional consultants and regional directors will explore the scope for consensus in developing LLNs as ‘demonstrators’ or ‘pilots’ that build on local strengths, and which, across the country, test different approaches. We do not expect every network to be the same, and want to encourage innovative approaches to developing and supporting progression for vocational learners. In some areas, LLNs will build on existing arrangements and relationships, while in others there may be new possibilities that can be explored. Networks will also develop at different speeds, and the identification of one network in a region as a demonstrator does not preclude development work on other opportunities.

6.    The aim of our discussions with providers and other partners over the next 3-4 months is to develop an understanding of the degree of interest, and possibilities for subsequent discussion with our national partners.

Development funds

7.    We have set aside some funding to develop proposals, and HEFCE regional consultants will be happy to discuss what development needs might be and the levels of support we can provide.

8.    Since this is an innovative idea with a wide range of options, we want to be flexible in our approach to funding, and not constrain development by artificial deadlines. If appropriate, in September we could consider with our national partners a number of full propositions for initial funding, with business cases that address the characteristics of LLNs in some detail. We would want those discussions to be informed by a regional perspective from our Regional Advisory Groups. If institutions can develop a full business case before then that has regional support, we could consider it; but we will not constrain other groups that may want to explore the issue over a longer timetable.

9.    When we have established the level of interest and what the possibilities are, we will discuss these with our partners and tell the sector exactly how we intend to progress this initiative.

10.    We do not wish at this stage to set any prescribed limits to the funding aspirations of prospective LLNs. However, we would envisage that the most ambitious LLNs might be supported by significant resources to cover start-up costs and then receive on-going recurrent funding, drawn from a range of sources. Higher education providers could also be awarded additional student numbers from HEFCE, to accommodate increased demand arising from the take-up of progression opportunities. More modest development would clearly require a lower level of investment.

11.    We will be happy to answer any queries you may have about Lifelong Learning Networks and look forward to working with you to establish them. Contact details for HEFCE regional consultations and LSC regional directors are in Annex B.

John Rushforth
Director, Widening Participation
Caroline Neville
National Director of Learning


Letter and Annexes
[ MS Word 101K | Zipped Word 31K | Adobe PDF 48K | Zipped PDF 42K ]


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