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Failure to lure in students

A catalogue of fundamental problems underlying the Government's slow progress towards national training and education targets is revealed in an unpublished report.

The draft of a Government consultation paper on lifetime learning shows Britain still falling far short of targets set for the year 2000.

The document was leaked by Labour shadow education and employment secretary David Blunkett, last week (TES November 24, 1995). It admits that "the scale of current lifetime learning remains well below the level required".

Research quoted shows that up to four in 10 people of working age expect never to undertake any further education or training, while only 7 per cent of those over 25 are pursuing a qualification.

More than a quarter of education and training programmes are fraught with problems. The most common complaint is the inflexibility of colleges and other training providers designing courses. A significant majority of students said courses were either too long, too short or at inconvenient times.

The research suggests that up to 15 per cent of all learners fail to complete their programmes, while "significant numbers" of potential students are put off even starting.

Equal opportunity measures appear to have failed. The report shows that women feel barred from learning by child-care responsibilities or looking after elderly relatives. Adults in rural areas find travel to college difficult, while those in inner cities are worried about security.

A version of the draft paper, drawn up last month, will shortly go out for consultation to the further education and training sector, in an effort to encourage more investment in training by employers.

In the report, the Government accepts that small firms have "a serious problem" finding cash for training. But it is still committed to keeping employer training voluntary despite extremely slow progress towards the national target of 70 per cent of large organisations becoming Investors in People - the key measure of their willingness to invest.

The report reveals a tacit admission by ministers that the voluntary model has failed. Workers cannot rely on employers to provide the skills they need to stay employable, at a time when shorter contracts and more part-time work have led to greater insecurity in the job market.

The draft report shows that an even greater burden of funding training is likely to fall on individuals. Their contribution to funding has reportedly risen from 9 per cent in 1986 to 17 per cent last year. But the real figure is thought to be significantly higher, the report reveals.

But ministers are aware that shifting the burden to the individual could be counter-productive. While the majority of adults see potential advantages in learning and qualifications, "significant numbers" remain unconvinced that they will lead to benefits such as a job, the report shows.

Despite a plethora of Government initiatives to widen careers advice, the report show that many have little idea where to go for information on learning opportunities, and are not covered by any of the present guidance services.

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