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Lifelong learning pressure grows

Ministers face strong pressure on three fronts as they prepare proposals for next year's lifelong learning White Paper.

Proposals contained in the Fryer report on lifelong learning, published today, hint at bitter battles ahead over funding, student support and education to A-level standard - the so-called Level 3.

Speaking earlier this month, Education Secretary David Blunkett hinted that more money would be available for further education in future as he unveiled an #163;83 million rescue package for colleges.

This week's Fryer report holds ministers to their word, coming out with a clear public call for adult education funding to be increased - along with a demand for priorities to be reconsidered to favour society's disadvantage d groups. The report makes it clear that no "quick fix" will be possible.

Ministers are being put under additional pressure by the National Advisory Committee on Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning which is calling for equal support for students at all stages.

The proposal puts the treatment of part-timers at the top of the political agenda. Part-timers currently pay fees and are not eligible for student support.

Key figures in the committee are known to be pressing for part-time students to be given access to maintenance loans and other forms of support, to bring them more into line with their full-time colleagues.

The report says a public debate is needed on funding for education. "We believe that a strong and convincing case needs to be made for additional public funding to be committed to lifelong learning."

Pressure will also centre around the report's stress on Level 3 qualifications.

Labour proposals have concentrated on schemes such as Welfare to Work on Level 2 studies - pitched around GCSE level. But the Fryer report says priority should be given to "concentrate the release of new public resources on those who have not yet achieved qualification s to NVQ Level 3".

Colleges and student leaders have already lobbied ministers on this, arguing that the economy requires a massive increase in the number of people qualified to the higher level.

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