£ 3.8bn investment in skills requires roadmap

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A renewed focus on ‘skills, competencies, skills’ may be essential to unlock the upgrading program, at least according to the budget recently announced by the Chancellor. Rishi Sunak has pledged a £ 3.8bn investment in skills, a significant sum intended to bolster the UK’s crisp adult education sector.

“We are helping people get the skills they need to get great jobs,” Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said, “our skills reforms and this additional investment will help more people continue to upgrade. and to retrain throughout their lives and to open the door to careers in highly skilled industries.

The government is spot on in terms of the scale of investment required. However, without an appropriate roadmap for reform, this bold attempt at a “skills revolution” risks failing to bring about the changes that are most needed.

Fortunately, the Commission for Lifelong Learning – in association with ResPublica – is creating such a roadmap. By pooling the expertise of 12 leading voices in higher and further education, the Commission plans to produce a series of reports on different aspects of education policy over the next 2 years.

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The first of these reports, titled “The Pathway to Lifelong Learning,” was released at the Conservative Party conference last month. It offers a series of recommendations to government on how best to effect change across the adult education system.

One of his main suggestions was the argument that investing in higher education (TE) options after age 18 should not come at the expense of supporting higher education (HE) alternatives for young people. adults. Unfortunately, the Chancellor’s new budget seems to have made this mistake.

Rishi Sunak said investments in learning will increase to around £ 170million by 2024-25, bringing total funding to a record high of £ 2.7 billion. In addition, £ 375million will be spent on funding technical education for adults, the first step in a £ 2.5 billion investment in adult skills pledged in this legislature.

This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, as it will open up options for thousands of adults who want to retrain in a new profession. However, this additional funding for EF will do little to help those looking to retrain in a field that requires a university education to enter.

Unless they have enough money in reserve or do not already have a degree, most are unable to meet the considerable costs of returning to college later in life. The result is that only those who need retraining the least are likely to be able to afford it.

This has created a situation in which adult learners are largely confined to a handful of FE options, while ES remains the territory of young people and the middle class. As long as this imbalance is not corrected, lifelong learning will always remain the second fiddle in education.

One way to solve this problem would be to extend access to student loan rights to all citizens, whether or not they have a previous degree. This would mean the removal of the restrictive equivalent or lower qualification (ELQ) rule, which currently prohibits graduates from receiving financial support if they hold a qualification equal to or lower than that of their choice.

At the same time, means-tested bursaries could be offered to mature students who might otherwise find it difficult to cover their living expenses. These measures would effectively level the playing field for higher education by removing economic and age-related barriers to retraining.

To create a more accessible and flexible skills system in the UK, the government needs to go beyond just pumping money into FE. Targeted reform of the higher education sector would open up a multitude of opportunities for adult learners who would otherwise be effectively prevented from retraining in highly skilled occupations.

The road to a full upgrade of adult education could be long and winding. Adopting the LEC’s suggestions for reforming HE would be a clear and definitive first step.

Philip Blond, director of ResPublica and co-founder of the Lifelong Education Commission

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