Adult education needs its own minister, says commission

Adult education must be a 'permanent national necessity', according to the 1919 Centenary Commission

Kate Parker

Adult education: The 2020s must be the decade of lifelong learning, says Mark Malcolmson

Adult education should have its own dedicated minister, according to the 1919 Centenary Commission for adult education. 

It has also called for a national adult education and lifelong learning strategy to be introduced, with a participation target to reduce the gap between the most and least educationally active. In addition, the commission wants to see community learning accounts to provide learning for informal, community-based initiatives led by local groups. 

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The commission has published a report entitled A Permanent National Necessity… Adult Education and Lifelong Learning for 21st Century Britain today and argues that adult education and lifelong learning "must be a permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship and vital to addressing the huge societal divisions and challenges to democracy".

The publication comes almost 100 years to the day after the Ministry of Reconstruction 's Adult Education Committee published its landmark 1919 report. 

Adult education: 'The government needs to step up'

The new report includes 18 recommendations for the future of adult education, including:

  • Increasing funding for adult community education services and FE colleges by £1 billion per year.
  • Requiring any organisation that describes itself as a university to provide adult education and lifelong learning.
  • Obliging all employers to provide paid time off work for learning.

The commission also suggests that a non-profit institution should receive the funding to provide a trusted digital platform, which is accessible to all publicly-supported providers of adult education. 

Dame Helen Ghosh, master of Balliol College, Oxford, and chair of the commission, said that there was a national consensus in favour of adult education and lifelong learning, but that the government needed to step up to the challenge. 

“In meetings across the country, our commission found a huge appetite for adult education and lifelong learning – we saw evidence of communities being brought together through imaginative educational initiatives; new groups being formed to analyse and discuss the issues of the day, including the climate crisis; and a desire to understand and prepare for the changing world of work, including amongst those in the 'gig economy' for whom provision at present is scant," she said. 

“Our commission's recommendations would address all these needs." 

Lifelong learning 'helps people to adapt'

Lord Bilimoria, CBI’s president-elect and a commission member, called on the next government to implement the proposals in the report.

He said: “Education is so important to us all, as individuals, and as members of our communities. And with the rapidly changing nature of work, with new technological developments continually emerging over the horizon, education for work needs to rise to the challenge – developing capabilities of team-working, critical thinking and reasoning. That's what's needed for our economy, our communities, our society and our democracy." 

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable welcomed the report.  

He said: “Adult education has never been more important and yet it is in decline and is poorly supported by government. There is great merit in the idea of equipping adults with a learning account which can be used for adult studies as people progress through life. Today’s skills and qualifications will often become redundant and we need a mechanism, through adult education, to help people adapt.” 

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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