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Birkbeck sponsors new report on Lifelong Learning

Adult upskilling and reskilling are pulled into focus and framed within the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and a whole-system approach to education.

Vice- Chancellor Professor David Latchman with others on a panel at the launch of the Lifelong Learning report
l-r: Professor Helen Marshall, Vice-Chancellor, Salford University; John Penrose MP; Chris Skidmore MP, Chair of the Lifelong Education Commission; Dr. Diana Beech, CEO, London Higher and Professor David Latchman, Vice-Chancellor, Birkbeck.

The Pathway to Lifelong Education: Reforming the UK’s Skills System’ report was launched on Monday at the ResPublica fringe event, held in Manchester during the Conservative Party Conference; with a panel including Professor David Latchman, Birkbeck’s Vice-Chancellor; Chris Skidmore MP and others.

The Report is the first of eight from the Lifelong Education Commission, set up by think-tank ResPublica and chaired by Chris Skidmore MP, former Universities Minister; and over the next two years will look at ways to remove barriers to adult learning, reform the UK skills system and recommend the required investment and support to bridge gaps.

Some of its key recommendations include permitting all citizens to be able to access the student loan entitlement regardless of prior qualifications, Government to consider means-tested maintenance grants to provide support with living costs and an integration of various parts of the careers system with all advisers registered and holding the relevant qualifications.

Professor Latchman has long extolled the values of lifelong learning and advocated for adults to be able to diversify their education; consequently, calling on Government to scrap the equivalent or lower qualifications (ELQ) rule which prevents those students from applying for funding for second undergraduate degrees and other lower-level qualifications.

In addressing the UK skills deficit and the need for definitive action, Professor Latchman said: “The UK has talked about providing improved support to lifelong education so that there are enough people with the right skills to support economic growth for many years. As we continue to experience the impact on the economy of COVID-19, the new international partnerships we are making outside of the EU, and technological advances, we have reached a critical juncture. We can either continue to talk about lifelong education, or we can take the urgent action needed to remove the barriers to it, so that adults are supported to develop the skills employers require.”

He added, “Universities have a pivotal role to play in ensuring that there are enough people with right skills to help ensure that the UK economy thrives. We must continue to work with businesses to ensure that our courses meet their needs, as well as with the Government, so that its policies support adults to develop the skills needed now and in the future.”

The UK has a longstanding skills problem which is impacting on economic growth. Adult participation in learning has declined, particularly among part time students, while fewer people in work are taking up training to reskill or upskill.

More generally there is a shortfall in vocational and higher technical qualifications, with only 4% of young people achieving a qualification at the higher technical level by the age of 25 and only 10% of adults aged 18-65 holding a level 4-5 technical qualification (equivalent to first year of university), compared to 20% in Germany and 34% in Canada.

Commission co-founder and ResPublica Director, Phillip Blond, said: "Boris Johnson has the chance to do for education what the NHS did for health, that is to universalise education and make it no longer just the privilege of the wealthy and the domain of the middle class. By making it life-long and backing access to training and skill acquisition for everyone, that makes a difference. The Conservatives can give a second chance to those failed by the system and crucially address the productivity gap that is driven almost everywhere by a lack of skills and access to training." 

Major structural changes to the labour market over the next 10 years will require workers to upskill and/or reskill in greater numbers to remain employable, seen as critical to the Government’s goal of ‘levelling up’ the country; with employers consistently citing 'skill gaps' and shortages as holding back the country’s competitiveness and productivity.

Further Information

Read the full report.

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