The case for funding lifelong learning

This week (18-24 May) is Adult Learners’ Week, a week co-ordinated by The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) to celebrate lifelong learning and provide opportunities for anyone to take up a new learning activity. It is a delightful showcase of the crux of adult education; changing lives.

With this celebration comes the inevitable worry – how will the funding system support this vital work in the future? Like many organisations, NIACE has submitted and published its submission to the government’s spending review. Reading it I was struck by how, despite the diversity of further education and skills sector, we are all clear on one thing – there is an overwhelming case for public investment in tertiary education.

Like the Knowledge Economy campaign, NIACE is calling for an increase in the proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) spent on adult learning from the current 1.3% to the OECD average of 1.6% by 2020. In addition it has also called for the government to restore investment in community learning to the value it had when first ‘safeguarded’ in 2005 – an increase of £45m to £255m. NIACE also argue that real-term spending on basic English and maths, Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) and apprenticeships is maintained.

Greater public investment in education is a pre-condition for sustainable economic growth and the powerful learners’ stories, highlighted by Adult Learners’ Week, further demonstrate education’s life-changing potential. NIACE’s submission highlights how tertiary education boosts skills, improves employability, enhances wellbeing, facilitates social mobility and improves individuals’ life chances.

Proper public investment in further, higher and adult education is not simply a whim.  It is key to a successful future for individuals, society and the state and it is what unites the wide range of Knowledge Economy campaign supporters. It is the reason why we are calling upon the government to commit the UK to funding tertiary education at a level that can close the investment gap between the UK and other international countries. Education can enable the UK to compete on an equal footing and our future depends on it.

Angela Nartey
Policy officer
University and College Union

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