Give people—including the most disadvantaged—the tools to adaptby Robert Halfon / September 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
Poor access to life-long learning is one of the great social injustices of our time. Around 9m adults in England have low literacy and/or numeracy skills. With the march of the robots, the consequences of the skills deficit are only set to deepen. A full 28 per cent of jobs taken by 16-24 year olds are at risk of automation by the 2030s. We must offer a way back—and life-long learning provides exactly that.
Yet despite the clear need for world-class provision, we are not doing enough to boost our offer. Between 2010 and 2016, the government adult skills budget in England fell by 34 per cent in real terms. Even worse, we are not doing enough for disadvantaged individuals; 49 per cent of adults from the lowest socioeconomic groups have received no teaching or training at all since they first left the education system.
So how can we ensure that the most vulnerable in the job market of today—and tomorrow—are able to thrive?
The government should commit to a life-long learning guarantee in three parts. First, an adult community learning guarantee that gives people with no qualifications a chance to study again. Second, a part-time higher education guarantee to offer greater flexibility. And third, an employer guarantee to incentivise businesses to upskill their workers.
We need to start small. Local community learning centres are the lifeblood of adult education. They engage disadvantaged groups and many courses are free. They also work well: 85 per cent of learners finish their courses and satisfaction scores are high. We need one in every town. The government should redirect some money from other schemes—for example, the fund for apprentices—to create a new fund geared towards supporting organisations like the Workers’ Educational Association.
We must also nurse part-time higher education back to full health. Institutions like the Open University and Birkbeck are bastions of social justice which provide flexible learning for those who need it most. We should reinstate proper fee support for the most disadvantaged adult learners who do courses likely to command a decent return in the job market. And we should demand that more of the £817m spent per year on higher education outreach is directed towards part-time learning.
Lastly, we need to re-energise employer-led training. Currently, employers who pay corporation tax receive £3-5bn worth of tax relief for training investments. We should restructure this so employers receive more when investing in low-skilled workers. We should go further by introducing a social justice tax credit to expand the number of companies that qualify.
Ultimately, we must create a society in which people have the tools to adapt in the face of adversity and uncertain futures. That’s why my Education Committee has launched an inquiry into the current state of adult learning. We want to get this right.