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
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.