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Scottish backing for lifelong learning

The Government has unveiled plans for a "national facility" to boost adult guidance in Scotland, but the Department for Education and Employment appears to have no plans to follow suit in England.

The moves in Scotland, which will include a national helpline and a database of education and training opportunities, were revealed by Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary, during the UK launch of the European Year of Lifelong Learning which took place in Edinburgh last week. The Times Supplements were among the official sponsors of the event.

James Paice, minister in charge of training at the DFEE, used his speech at the launch to emphasise the role of employers in encouraging a greater uptake of courses. "All of us throughout Europe recognise that the driving force behind the achievement of our targets and the creation of a learning society will be the part played by employers."

Mr Forsyth was concerned that the target audience might become confused: "People must not be put off by a complex and perhaps threatening array of different types of educational and training provision."

The Scottish Secretary made it clear that a Scottish Adult Guidance Service, which is to be the subject of a consultation exercise, would not be an entirely Government-funded initiative. The Scottish Office is looking for partners which effectively means that local authorities, enterprise companies and other agencies would have to come up with extra cash before any scheme got off the ground.

The conference workshops left no doubt, however, that there will be differing views on which of the partners should be the driving force behind these changes. Titus Alexander, an inspector, suggested that schools should become "community centres for lifelong learning".

At the other end of the spectrum Professor John Sizer, chief executive of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, pointed to the success of the Scottish Credit Accumulation and Transfer system in promoting lifelong learning. The further education colleges believed they could deliver an effective service not just in colleges but also in schools - and offer locally-based higher education as well.

Bernadette Brady, director of a Dublin-based adult education centre, spoke of the "tremendous growth" since the mid-1980s of community-based adult learning in the Irish Republic, particularly among women's groups.

There was agreement on the current major problem. Professor David Watson, director of Brighton University, pointed to "the need for a new and more equitable system for funding both students and institutions".

Edith Cresson, the European Commissioner for education, said countries could learn from each other during the year. She cited "second-chance schools", the first of which had recently opened in Marseilles and in which young people who had failed in or been alienated from school could get a second opportunity.

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