Education voucher bid to help all new arrivals

24th April 2009 at 01:00

All immigrants to the UK should be given a "welcome voucher" for free education to help them settle in, an inquiry team has said.

The inquiry into the future of lifelong learning, established by the adult education body Niace, has proposed that immigrants and Britons migrating within the UK should be offered free classes.

Its report, Migration, Communities and Lifelong Learning by Stephen McNair, director of the Centre for Research into the Older Workforce, said adult education could help to build cohesive communities in an age of "super-diversity", with areas containing a range of languages and nationalities.

An entitlement to learning on arrival in a new area would encourage people to integrate and make new contacts, regardless of their origins.

Professor McNair said: "Long waiting lists and complicated regulations teach people that they are not welcome and help them to learn to survive without becoming members of mainstream society.

"Joining classes can help people to develop new skills and refresh old ones, so they can rapidly become contributing members of society. It can also help community cohesion by building social networks."

Lack of appropriate English is the biggest barrier to integration for migrants, the report said. Those with fluent English were 20 per cent more likely to find work and are likely to earn 20 per cent more than those who speak the language badly.

Tom Schuller, director of the inquiry, said looking solely at the cost of the proposals risked missing the point. "What are the costs of non integration?" he said. "What are the costs of losing the opportunity of non-English speakers' skills because they don't speak English properly?"

Editorial, page 6.

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