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Lifelong ambitions

THE parliamentary report on lifelong learning issued this week (page four) is a landmark document as much for how the enterprise and lifelong learning committee is going about its business as for the proposals themselves. The recommendations may not be "big bang" as the report suggests: the committee's preferred time-scale for change is over five to 10 years. But they are radical enough, as the peevish response from Scottish Enterprise highlights. Even the Association of Scottish Colleges, purring at the vote of confidence the report bestows on colleges, seems taken aback by the boldness of it all: the colleges did not even suggest that training programmes should be transferred to them from the local enterprise companies.

But the committee had clear and consistent messages from those who gave evidence. Learning opportunities post-school face too many barriers: finance for learners is a nightmare of complexity, the funding of courses owes more to history (and geography) than to logic and the quality of information and guidance for would-be learners is variable.

The clutter that is lifelong learning is, however, easier to analyse than to clear away. There are minefields to be circumvented, as the responses from the enterprise and FE worlds demonstrate. The committee is therefore to be commended for taking the innovative step of holding a national convention to gauge reactions before issuing its final report in June.

The interim report is rightly concerned to streamline current arrangements. That means it concentrates on the "demand" side of the structures rather than the "supply" side of the customers. Yet it is in there that the real challenges may lie: while 83 per cent of Scots believe education and training are important, only 34 per cent think it is for them.

Systemic barriers undoubtedly exist, but those in the mind may be more resistant to change.

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