FE: Lifelong learning could save Treasury millions

11th September 2009 at 01:00
Inquiry to recommend major investment in adult education to reduce costs of health and crime

Original paper headline: Lifelong learning could save Treasury millions

Lifelong learning saves the Treasury hundreds of millions of pounds that should be reinvested in the system, a major inquiry is expected to recommend.

The Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning, commissioned by the adult education body Niace two years ago, will issue its main report on Thursday, setting out the case for adult education and how it can be improved and expanded.

Tom Schuller, director of the inquiry, said it concluded that there were many examples of how adult education either paid for itself or saved money through social benefits such as reducing the cost of crime or poor mental health.

The inquiry is expected to argue that these and other benefits make extra investment in learning for over-25s affordable, without harming budgets in other areas of education.

Mr Schuller said the inquiry was not proposing a "simplistic" link between adult education funding and social improvements but it did urge a greater level of cost-benefit analysis.

"We argue for a `more intelligent' system," he said. "We don't think that everything can be reduced to pound signs or a single common currency, but we do think that good analysis of cost-effectiveness is an important way forward."

The inquiry is expected to propose a report into the state of learning be published every three years as part of the "intelligent system", along with more cost-benefit analysis and routine use of comparisons with other countries.

Mr Schuller said the inquiry's calculation of adult learning's costs and benefits involved some assumptions, detailed in the report, but said they were conservative. "They are rigorous, nevertheless," he said.

Estimated savings

It estimated that prison education, for instance, could save between pound;130 million and pound;325 million of the costs of incarceration by cutting reoffending by between 2.5 and 5 per cent. It also cited a study which estimated that raising the educational level of women without qualifications would result in a saving of pound;230 million a year.

With "strong evidence" that education helped keep the elderly independent for longer, the inquiry said up to pound;36 million a year could be saved if lifelong learning kept them from being admitted to care homes for just four weeks longer.

Mr Schuller said it was important not to claim too much for lifelong learning - tackling issues such as reoffending also meant providing other amenities such as housing - but added it had a clear impact.

Alan Tuckett, director of Niace, said he hoped the inquiry would be the spur to a higher-level debate on issues such as the ageing population and how this would affect the education system.

"The heart of the reason why we committed pound;1 million of Niace's resources to this was that we can't see any immediate possibility of a coherent lifelong learning policy emerging from . any of the major parties at the moment," he said.

"It's not about the 1.5 million people we've lost in adult education over the last few years, it's a chance to step back and look at what will make sense over the next 10 or 15."

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