Friday, 30 December 2011

We need to develop policies for life long learning!

This first appeared on Scots Gazette on 12 September 

The whole university fees issue continues to be a hot issue as they take shape.  Recently the Scottish universities have been announcing what fees they will charge students from the rest of the UK and non EU foreign students.  This has of course put into focus the absurd situation where we are charging students from other parts of the UK but not from other EU countries.

However, this got me thinking about the issue of lifelong learning and mature students. I read an excellent piece from LibDem blogger, Richard Morris which prompted my thinking.  Richard picked up on the fact that the Open University students studying for an equivalent or lower level degree to one they already hold will have to pay their fees up front from next year (The TES describes the issue).  He argued that many students will now be priced out of the system which will have a significant effect on the economy.  Furthermore he made the point that while other aspects of education rightly took priority this was an important issue and made a plea for the LibDems to address it as a policy issue.

“… Where there is money, we have chosen as a party to direct it towards the youngest in society (in England and Wales), through initiatives like the pupil premium and free nursery places, where we believe tight funds can get the best results and have the most profound impact. I agree with this approach.
But I cannot pretend that the knock on effect of this sits easily with me. As Liberals we are philosophically wedded to the notion of giving every individual the opportunity to make more of their lives – and the best chance of delivering that must come through lifelong learning. A quick Google search indicates we have had very little to say on this subject since May last year – which is surprising….”

I absolutely agree with him.  Moreover, I think this is a terribly important policy area with patterns of work becoming more disjointed over peoples’ lifetimes.

With the rise of the contract worker and many more people finding themselves working for a large company for a period of time then choosing – or being forced – to change direction, the need for workers in the 21st century to be adaptable is very high.  Patterns of work are changing and the days of the paternalistic large organisation are gone.  Large companies don’t do social welfare anymore – just look at pensions. Nor do they provide a culture to train and nurture a worker throughout life any more.

Companies will in the future employ a small group of uber managers and a core of key workers.  Other tasks will be performed by outsourcing, staff on short term contracts or professional contractors.  Workers therefore need to develop themselves and build new skills and knowledge to match a changing economy and changing technology – and each of us is responsible for our own development.

All this means that in building a modern, adaptable, knowledge economy, a coherent policy for adult learning is as important as education for the young.  Some of the young will need it too if they struggle to get careers off the ground in their early 20s in the current environment!

This is a key issue for developing Scotland’s economy and society in the future along with initiatives like Investors in People to encourage companies to invest in their staff for business success and to equip their employees for the modern world.

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