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Individual Learning Accounts (ILA) Scotland - Learners Study



Policy background

1.1 In October 2004, BMRB was commissioned by the former Scottish Executive to carry out a survey to evaluate the Individual Learning Accounts Scotland scheme (referred to in this report as ILA) 3.

1.2 Recent changes to the strategic objectives of the Scottish Government to make Scotland wealthier and fairer, healthier, safer and stronger, smarter and greener4 have clear implications for the ILA Scotland scheme. Within this context, the scheme has a key role to play in enabling learners and potential learners who may otherwise be unable to access learning opportunities to undertake study or training to leverage skills and increase their potential contribution to the knowledge economy.

1.3 The following aims were set out for the ILA scheme prior to its launch:

  • widening participation in adult learning by increasing interest and uptake;
  • introducing new learners to adult learning and to provide an opportunity for those who have not recently participated in learning to do so;
  • encouraging more learning progression;
  • encouraging individuals to invest in their own learning (and take ownership);
  • prioritising the learning needs of certain groups of learners ( i.e. people on low incomes);
  • supporting the development of a quality learning provider base in Scotland.

1.4 The importance of measures designed to increase and widen participation in lifelong learning among members of the adult population has been recognised as an important priority of the policy agenda in Scotland in recent years. This focus is reflected in a number of reports and policy documents including the Scottish Parliament's Final Report into Lifelong Learning (Scottish Parliament, 2002), the then Scottish Executive's Lifelong Learning Strategy for Scotland - Life Through Learning Through Life (Scottish Executive, 2003a), the Partnership Agreement (Scottish Executive, 2003b) and more recently the Scottish Government's Skills Strategy, Skills for Scotland: A Lifelong Skills Strategy (Scottish Government, 2007). Within these documents, there is recognition of the barriers to participation, and the ILA scheme is seen as an important response to such issues.

1.5 Financial factors have been identified as one such potential barrier for learners and potential learners, in particular non-traditional learners (Scottish Funding Council, 2005). The Scottish Government has an ongoing commitment to enhancing student support through developing continued improvements to student finance models. Differences in financial support systems for tertiary education students were recently evaluated on an international level in the Funding for Learners Review (Scottish Executive, 2005a). Extensive information, advice and guidance ( IAG) on student finance is provided through the Funding, Support and Grants section of the Education and Training area of the Scottish Government website, which offers detailed support for groups such as adult learners, disabled students and those undertaking part-time study (Scottish Executive, 2007a).

1.6 The ILA Scotland scheme has been a key tool in addressing ongoing policy-based dialogue about improving access to and flexibility of learning opportunities. The concept of a model of entitlement to learning which is flexible and not time-bound, equitable, guaranteed and non-bureaucratic5 is supported as a method of encouraging entry or re-entry and engagement in learning in post-16 education. Entitlement to learning has been identified as a way of empowering learners, increasing participation amongst 'non-traditional' groups through more flexible learning opportunities and fostering a sense of 'parity of esteem' between different types of learning within one overarching framework ( Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, 2002). The Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee ( ELLC) also recommended that part-time learners should be entitled to the same (or pro-rata) fee arrangements as full-time learners.

1.7 Increasing overall participation in Higher Education ( HE) has meant an increase in the number of part-time students and learners who would benefit from such flexible learning pathways. In 2005-06, 40% of all students in HE in Scotland 6 and 89% of all students in Scotland's colleges 7 studied part-time. There is currently a clear differential in the financial support available for full-time and part-time students, with part-time students in further education ( FE) being eligible for means tested bursary support (for travel and study costs) and in HE having entitlement to limited support with study costs (Scottish Executive, 2005). Unaffordable costs of study can act as a significant barrier to full participation of part-time students in education (Callender et al, 2006), and 'the view that support for part-time students should be enhanced is widely held' 8.

1.8 Along with the financial assistance offered through ILA Scotland and the government fee waiver scheme, the Open University ( OU) has recently announced plans to offer financial help to part-time students who may otherwise be unable to access learning opportunities. This income based assistance (up to £200 for those earning between £15,700 and £30,000) has been developed in response to the recommendations of the Review of Funding of Learners (Scottish Executive, 2005c), as initially outlined in Life Through Learning Through Life, the previous Lifelong Learning Strategy for Scotland (Scottish Executive, 2003a). This OU development aims to complement existing aid for those on low incomes, such as single parents, mature students and students with disabilities (Cubie et al, 1999) and encourage flexible and equitable access to learning opportunities. This funding is for one year only and will be for session 2007-08.

1.9 The Leitch Review of Skills suggests that the 50% target for participation in HE prioritises full-time undergraduate study over part-time opportunities. Leitch recommends increased employer engagement and routes to continued professional development as potential resolutions to this, in line with the development of the core objective of the increased acquisition of 'world class skills' (Leitch, 2006). The Department for Innovation Universities and Skills in July 2007 proposed to introduce new 'skills accounts' in England (though these would be different from ILAs in Scotland in a number of ways).

1.10 The ILA scheme also acts as a mechanism through which learners may access IAG regarding learning opportunities from a number of sources which include amongst others: ILA Scotland helpline and website; intermediary agencies; learning providers and other learners. As such, the ILA Scotland scheme contributes to the Executive's commitment to the provision of clear, straightforward, accessible and user friendly IAG which is delivered efficiently, effectively and coherently by delivery partners, intermediaries and IAG practitioners (Scottish Executive, 2005b).

The ILA Scotland scheme

1.11 Plans for the ILA scheme were first outlined in the Government Green Paper The Learning Age: A Renaissance for a New Britain (Department for Education and Employment, 1998) in which paths for movement towards individualized, self-directed and market driven lifelong learning were discussed. In Scotland, the scheme was adopted as 'a key part of the then Scottish Executive's drive to build a learning nation where people of all backgrounds can invest in their own learning throughout their lifetime' (Scottish Executive, 2000). On its launch in 2000, the original scheme (which operated UK-wide) enjoyed national uptake that exceeded initial forecasts, with 80% of participants in the former Scottish Executive-commissioned research agreeing that participation in the scheme had increased their knowledge and skills and 60% agreeing that participation in the scheme would encourage them to undertake further learning (Scottish Executive, 2002). Though generally hailed as a success, the scheme was suspended in 2001 as a result of some providers having been engaged in the mis-selling of ILAs. In Scotland plans were then made for the re-launch of an enhanced and more stable scheme which would 'take the best from the first ILA programme and remedy its shortcomings' (Scottish Executive, 2001).

1.12 The ILA Scotland scheme was re-launched in December 2004, as a more robust and sustainable successor to the original scheme. Like the ILA Scotland scheme, ILAs were also re-launched in Wales with a new scheme being introduced in summer 2003 9.

1.13 An evaluation of the original ILA Scotland scheme has helped to shape the innovative nature of the re-launched scheme 10. The revised ILA Scotland scheme was launched in two phases. The first phase, ILA200 (previously named targeted offer), was launched in December 2004 and was aimed at those on low incomes (earned individual income of £15,000 or less and those on benefits) who are eighteen or over and normally resident in Scotland. ILA200 provides eligible learners with £200 funding which can be put towards a wide range of learning opportunities both accredited and non-accredited. The second phase, the ILA100 offer (previously named universal offer) was launched in August 2005. This offer is not income restricted. Initially, ILA100 eligible learners could access £100 of funding towards basic information and communication technology ( ICT) learning leading to a formal qualification/certification up to Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework ( SCQF) Level 5 or equivalent. The ILA100 offer was expanded from summer to include a wide range of courses covering any subject, rather than restricted to ICT, up to SCQF Level 6 (although still limited to courses leading to qualifications/certification). The restriction that ICT courses for ILA200 must lead to formal qualifications or recognised certification has been removed.

1.14 Once established, ILA Scotland accounts have no specified expiry date and the funding entitlement is refreshed on an annual basis although account holders for ILA200 have to re-confirm their income level (if not, they revert to an ILA100 account). To access funds provided through the ILA Scotland scheme, all ILA learners must make a minimum contribution of £10 per learning episode.

1.15 Courses which are eligible for ILA funding are referred to as "Eligible Learning" and are detailed on the ILA Scotland website 11. Funding can be used towards a range of courses offered by approved learning providers from a variety of sectors which include voluntary or community providers, private training providers, colleges and universities.

1.16 However, certain types of courses are excluded from the ILA Scotland scheme. Such exclusions are:

  • full time higher education
  • advanced professional qualifications;
  • work related and statutory training which is a requirement of the individuals employment, examples offered by ILA Scotland include Health and Safety or learning which is associated with core work duties;
  • adult literacy and numeracy courses;
  • leisure or sports activities not leading to a recognised qualification;
  • secondary education.
  • ICT training which does not lead to a recognised qualification or certificate
  • lessons towards attaining driving licence category A or B
  • courses given as a reward or an inducement by an employer
  • private flying lessons (including fixed wing, rotary and paragliding)
  • diving lessons (scuba, deep sea and high board)
  • outward bound type courses.

1.17 As we have noted, ILA Scotland has been subject to major changes aimed at improving the scheme's impact and effectiveness (see Table 1.1). The first widened the scope of the ILA100 offer to include ICT qualifications up to SCQF Level 6 or equivalent. The second amendment has broadened the offer to include access to a wide range of ILA approved learning. These changes were introduced shortly before the fieldwork for wave 1 of the ILA100 survey, and many of the courses undertaken by learners (as captured by the wave 1 survey) took place before these changes.

Table 1.1: The ILA Scotland scheme12

Target Group


Minimum learner contribution

Requirement to provide evidence of income

Courses learner may access

ILA200 offer - Earned income of £15,000 13 or less per annum, individuals in receipt of benefits or tax credits

Up to £200 per learner per year

£10 per learning episode


Wide range of ILA Scotland approved courses, both certificated and non-certificated

ILA100 offer - Earned income of more than £15,000 per year (prior to changes introduced in August 2006)

Up to £100 per learner year

£10 per learning episode


ILA Scotland approved ICT courses up to SCQF level 5 or equivalent which must lead to qualification or certification

ILA100 offer - Earned income of more than £15,000 per year (post changes to the scheme introduced in August 2006)

Up to £100 per learner per year

£10 per learning episode


Wide range of ILA Scotland approved courses up to SCQF Level 6 or equivalent which must lead to qualification or certification

1.18 Changes have also been made to the ILA200 offer. The initial restriction that ICT courses must lead to formal qualifications or recognised certification has been removed. An additional change has recently been announced. On June 1st 2007, the £15,000 individual income threshold was raised to £18,000 14. Recent research has noted that many agencies have felt that the current cut off point was too low and should be raised (Scottish Executive, 2007c). This corresponds with ILA Scotland's objective of addressing financial barriers to learning and increasing participation of a more diverse or non-traditional group of learners. This survey was conducted before this change came into operation.

1.19 More generally, the number of providers and courses covered by the scheme has increased over time, as shown in table 1.2. Again, this is relevant to the timing of the survey, as the vast majority of the courses covered in the survey will have been taken before the end of 2006, and many by the end of 2005.

Table 1.2: Number of providers and courses covered by ILA Scotland

Approved providers



By end of December 2005




By end of December 2006




By end of December 2007




Note: table shows approximate figures

1.20 A number of high-level targets were set for ILA Scotland prior to its launch in 2004:

  • 38,000 active learners (ie taking up ILA funded learning) on ILA200 (by the end of 2006)
  • 12,000 active learners on ILA100
  • 8,000 "new" ILA learners (no learning since leaving school)
  • 5,000 "return" ILA learners (no learning in previous three years)
  • 90% of ILA learners satisfied with the quality of their learning.

1.21 Initially, the uptake of the scheme was slow and the target of 38,000 active ILA200 learners was not reached until 2007 (although over 53,000 applicants had got to the stage of opening an account by the end of 2006). All of the ILA200 targets have now been met (as of December 2007), but the uptake of ILA100 has been low, with around 4,500 active ILA100 learners by the end of 2007.

The learner application process

1.22 The ILA Scotland scheme comprises of a helpline through which learners are encouraged to enquire about the scheme via a dedicated telephone number staffed by advisors from learndirect scotland. Through the helpline, learners can check whether they are eligible, enquire about approved courses, and request an ILA application form. It was the intention that channelling the application process via a single entry point would provide clarity and also contribute to greater security within the application process.

1.23 Once learners have contacted the helpline and registered with the ILA Scotland scheme, they receive an application pack which contains a form, guidance on completing the form, and freepost envelope through which it is to be returned. This pack is also available in audio ( CD) format, Braille and large print format, or in any of the following languages: Chinese, Gaelic, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu. The application form is partially completed on the basis of information the learner has already provided through their interaction with the helpline. The learner is responsible for completing the form although assistance through an intermediary or partner agency, for example an advice agency or community group, is encouraged.

1.24 After the form has been returned to ILA Scotland, and evidence of income assessed (where required), the learner receives a welcome pack confirming that they have registered with ILA Scotland. ILA Scotland states that the learner should receive this within two weeks of their application being received 15. In the welcome pack, the learner is provided with a guide to choosing courses and a learner account card with a specific ILA account reference number. The account number is required to book an ILA approved course. Like the application outlined in paragraph 1.19 above, the welcome pack is also available in alternative formats and languages.

Income assessment

1.25 Applicants for the ILA200 offer are requested to provide evidence of individual income alongside their application for inclusion in the scheme. The nature of evidence required varies depending on the individual learner's circumstances (see Table 1.3). All forms that are required to be completed in order to evidence income are found within the application pack. Evidence of income should be returned to ILA Scotland along with the completed application form.

Table 1.3: Evidence of income required as part of ILA200 Scotland application process16


In receipt of benefits/state pension

Of pensionable age but not in receipt of state pension


No income

3 most recent monthly pay slips

latest benefit entitlement letter

copy standard pension statement

ILA Scotland Certification of Self-Employed Income Form

National Insurance Contribution Records Statement from DWP





3 weekly pay slips in last 3 month period

most recent Tax Credit Assessment Notification

Letter form DWP confirming pension

Tax Credit Notification from Inland Revenue




ILA Scotland Employer Certification of Income form

ILA Scotland Benefit Confirmation form

copy of inside cover or pension book showing payment made and to whom

Booking ILA Scotland learning opportunities

1.26 Once a learner has selected a course from ILA approved courses or "eligible learning opportunities", the learner must then approach the provider and indicate their wish to access an ILA funded opportunity. The learner must then give their learner account number (on their learner account card) to the provider in order to reserve ILA Scotland funds. Following this course booking process, the learner receives confirmation of the booked course from ILA Scotland along with a 'learning token' which the learner must then use to "pay" for their learning. This is a paper confirmation which includes an additional reference number unique to that learner, the selected course and the selected provider and is submitted to the provider to be dated and validated. It is also suggested that the learner's £10 personal contribution should be collected at this point 17.

Individual Learning Accounts and the role of learning providers and intermediary agencies

1.27 ILA Scotland has prioritised working with both learning providers and intermediary agencies. The important role that learning providers and intermediary agencies can play in disseminating information to learners and potential learners has been recognised by ILA Scotland. The ILA Scotland website has a dedicated 'Provider Zone' and 'Partner Zone', with tailored and bespoke information for each of these types of organisation. The Learning Provider Zone provides guidance on registration as a provider, quality assurance aspects of course delivery and operational aspects of the scheme, such as the Provider Opportunity Management Tool ( PROMT), the dedicated information management software which enables providers to add, edit and remove course information and bookings. The Partner Zone offers guidance and information on how to provide support for learners and potential learners, including examples of the nature of support that learners may require. The ILA Scotland scheme proposes to build on relationships already established between intermediary agencies and their particular client groups 18.

Survey Details

1.28 The survey was longitudinal in design, tracking successful applicants 19 of both offers ( ILA100 and ILA200) over time; applicants were interviewed twice, approximately nine months apart. In addition, a separate survey was carried out amongst people who had requested an ILA Scotland application form but had not returned it (referred to as "unconverted enquirers"). BMRB worked in collaboration with the SCRE Centre, University of Glasgow, in developing the research design.

1.29 The survey was designed to assess the extent to which learners felt the ILA scheme had met its objectives, specifically:

  • What were the characteristics of people on the two schemes, and when had they last undertaken learning
  • Had people on the schemes actually been on ILA funded courses
  • To what extent had participation in the schemes encouraged learning progression
  • Were learners satisfied with the courses they had been on; did they meet their needs
  • What benefits did they feel they received from the courses they had been on
  • Was the funding critical to their participation in learning, or would they have done so anyway.

1.30 This report presents an overview of the findings for the research as a whole, comparing the findings for the two offers and between the two waves of interviewing, as well as the survey amongst unconverted enquirers.

Survey Method

1.31 At the first wave of the survey, BMRB interviewed 1,000 successful applicants on ILA200 and 1,000 on ILA100. ILA200 applicants were interviewed in January and February 2006, ILA100 applicants in November and December 2006. The samples of applicants were supplied by learndirect scotland. The ILA200 sample covered those who had successfully applied between January and July 2005 inclusive, while the ILA100 sample covered successful applications made at any time in 2005 or 2006 20.

1.32 BMRB stratified the learndirect scotland lists by gender, date of birth and date applied, and made a random selection of people to contact. BMRB issued selected learners with letters explaining the purpose of the research. Advance letters for all waves are in the Appendices. Selected learners, excluding those who opted out of the research prior to fieldwork commencing, were then contacted by telephone and invited to participate. Every effort was made to obtain interviews with the random selection of ILA applicants (for example, BMRB interviewers made repeat call-backs and often had to schedule appointments for a time that suited the respondent).

1.33 In order to track respondents and explore learner outcomes, BMRB attempted to re-contact all of those agreeing to take part in a second (wave 2) interview nine months later. An advance letter was again posted to all those selected at the second wave. A total of 628 ILA200 respondents were interviewed between September and November 2006, while 596 ILA100 respondents were interviewed in August and September 2007. Table 1.4 summarises the numbers of interviews and response rates.

1.34 A separate survey of unconverted enquirers was also conducted. The sample was again drawn from the learndirect scotland database, covering people who had requested an ILA Scotland application form but who, according to the database, had not returned that form. A total of 996 interviews were conducted in October and November 2006; this comprised 746 respondents who had requested a form for the ILA200 offer and 250 for the ILA100 offer.

Table 1.4: Number of interviews and response rates



Unconverted enquirers

Number of learners contacted for Wave 1




Wave 1 interviews (completed interviews)




Wave 1 refusals




Wave 1 unresolved contacts




Wave 1 response rate (% of issued sample)




Number of learners contacted for Wave 2




Wave 2 interviews (completed interviews)




Wave 2 refusals




Wave 2 unresolved contacts




Wave 2 response rate (% useable sample)




1.35 These sample sizes (1,000 interviews for each offer in the first wave, and around 600 in the second wave) allow for a reasonable level of statistical confidence, both for the total samples and for different sub-groups ( e.g. age groups and social grades), while remaining cost-efficient.

1.36 As noted above, the timing of the survey fieldwork varied between the two offers, as did the time span over which respondents applied for funding. Those on ILA200 were first interviewed between 6 and 13 months after opening their account, but those on ILA100 were interviewed anything up to 23 months after opening their account. This means that some of the ILA100 respondents will have had longer to take up individual courses, but also that there was greater variation in the time since opening the account for ILA100, in comparison with ILA200. This should be borne in mind when interpreting differences in results between the two offers. In addition, it is important to bear in mind that the survey reports on the experiences of individuals at a particular stage of the ILA scheme's development (wave 1 interviews in 2006 and wave 2 interviews in 2006 and 2007), and that this may differ from the experiences of learners more recently.

1.37 For all elements of the survey, interlocking sex-age weights were applied to the data to correct for the slight tendency to over-represent women and older people. This ensures that the profile of the interviewed sample is in line with the 'population' of successful applicants covered by the learndirect database ( i.e. correcting for any response bias). All figures in this report are based on weighted data. Further details on weighting can be found in the Appendix.

Notes on report

1.38 The report refers to differences between the two offers and between sub-groups of learners. All differences mentioned in the report are statistically significant at the 95% confidence level 21. Where figures in tables do not add up to 100%, this is due either to percentage rounding or because multiple responses are allowed. An asterisk (*) denotes a percentage of less than 0.5 per cent but greater than zero.

1.39 All tables in the report include the unweighted base (the number of respondents answering the question), as well as a description of the base.