It is right that adults who can afford it should pay substantially towards their education and training. Currently, 150,000 in need of basic training are entitled to full state support. That figure will rise under new priorities set by the Government for skills training. By how much, no-one really knows, but the Learning and Skills Council has pledged to get these individuals back into education and training.
Employers too should pay their dues if the result is a more rounded, better educated and fully skilled workforce. Whatever cash the Government commits, there will never be enough to meet all the aspirations of employers and individuals. Companies must shed their reluctance to spend and colleges should tailor needs to suit.
To such ends, the Government set clear priorities and reaffirmed the commitment to pay for adult education and training up to level 2 (GCSE grade A-C). This week, the LSC launched consultations on proposed reforms (see page 1). People above that level, said chief executive Mark Haysom, "might need to invest a little more in their learning".
This is the right level to pitch for nationally, since this is where the skills crisis is most acute. Also, if you are at or above level 2, you have a 20 per cent higher chance of being in work than if you are below it. And it is the first significant point at which people are likely to pay willingly for their own training.
But the national picture may not resemble local needs. There are still numerous issues to be resolved over the coming 12 weeks of consultations with colleges and training providers.
Just how much "level 2" education and training should be entitled to receive support? If limited to the first qualification, how should it be defined? What additional costs will be met? The Government is to be congratulated for extending education maintenance allowances to adults, but this will not pay all the bills for students with families.
If one local LSC area is rich in skilled people, are their funds to be raided to meet educationally poorer areas? And what evidence will be needed to show that skills have been achieved if the state is to pay?
That said, the proposals do constitute a historic shift, with cash for adult learning targeted at clearly identifiable people in need.