LIFELONG LEARNING. A learning revolution, which would transform Britain and have the same impact as the first industrial revolution, was heralded this week by the Government.
David Blunkett, the Employment and Education Secretary, said at the launch of the Green Paper: "People must be allowed to develop learning where they wish to, when they wish to and how they wish to." Instead of people going to institutions, the institutions would go out to them, wherever they were.
At the heart of the proposals are the University for Industry (UFI) which will connect those who want to learn with ways of doing so, and Individual Learning Accounts, which link the individual, state and employer in new training pacts.
Labour sees the UFI as significant as the Open University was to Harold Wilson's government, will link people and companies electronically (or even by letter) to courses on offer full-time or part-time, at learning centres, at work during the lunch break, on Saturday night after Match of the Day.
One million individual learning accounts will be created , backed by pound;150 million which would come from the reserves held by the training and enterprise councils. The Government will initially provide pound;150 for training, the individual has to add at least pound;25, and employers will be expected to top up.
The Government also published responses to the Dearing report on higher education and the Kennedy report on widening participation but both had an air of watch-this-space-while-we-consult.
Mr Blunkett skipped a question as to why the Green Paper (consultation) had been downgraded from a White Paper (legislation). "I do not think consultation is downgrading anything. It allows the whole nation to get things right for the future, and for people to illustrate what they want.
He said that education minister Tessa Blackstone, lifelong learning minister, Kim Howells and himself were all products of the lifelong learning process, which is why they were so committed. They wanted to create the vision of a new learning age, to equip people with education and training, which would provide them with the ability to change jobs throughout their lives.
One in three people had had no education or training since they left school. Millions of people could barely write as the education system had failed them.
Kim Howells said: "Any college that runs a half-decent course and advertises it is filled immediately. We have got to get around the idea that things are never going to be the same again."
David Brown, chairman of the working group that has been helping to design the UFI said that the issues of increasing employability and improving competitiveness in British industry had been brought together in a single initiative.
"This is one of the most remarkable initiatives we are going to see in our lifetimes. Industry is one of the greatest untapped educational resource that we have. Industry can now put that resource at the disposal of the nation more broadly," he said.
A free helpline is now open to answer all education and training enquiries: 0800 100 900.