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'Educate everyone under 25 for free'

THE "bizarre" education system which subsidises high-earning professionals while leaving others to fend for themselves has been criticised by the head of a leading vocational qualifications body.

The Government should extend level 2 education, equivalent to GCSE, to all adults, according to Chris Humphries, director general of City and Guilds.

Speaking at the annual conference of Fforwm, which represents 24 further education colleges in Wales, he says subsidised learning at post-19 should not be restricted to higher education.

"It's a really bizarre system we have," he said. "The philosophy is that it's OK to fully-fund doctors and lawyers, who are going to earn big salaries, but plumbers can pay for themselves.

"We should have the attitude in the UK that anyone under 25 has an entitlement to fully-funded level 2 education." He added that proposals under discussion in Scotland, to give everyone the right to six years'

full-time further education, regardless of age, should be adopted throughout Britain.

Mr Humphries warned that the birth rate fall will leave a huge gap in the workforce by 2010 and all age groups will need to raise their skill levels to meet employers' needs. By the end of this decade, he said, 1.7 million British jobs will have to be filled by adults currently not in the workforce.

"Around one-third of adults of working age have no skills or qualifications an employer can rely on. About 90 per cent of jobs by 2010 will require level 2 or better.

"Not only do we need adults to come into employment who don't have skills, but potentially two-thirds of those adults don't even have the basic skills needed to begin training," he said.

Roger Hampton, chair of Fforwm, believes most principals in Wales would welcome Mr Humphries' proposals to extend free further education to all adults. He said it is an idea which is gaining increasing sympathy among National Assembly members.

"I wouldn't think it would be a controversial view in Wales," he said. "We're leaning towards that. From 2002 onwards, there will discretionary learning grants awarded to post-19 students."

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