Glasgow alliance to fight decline

4th December 1998 at 00:00
Neil Munro reports on efforts to regenerate the education system and establish a 'learning city'

GLASGOW has set itself the ambitious target of creating 100,000 "new learners" over the next decade.

The announcement came as a poll of city residents revealed a gap with the rest of the country that Professor John Ward, chair of the Government's advisory council on education and training targets, describes as "horrendous and appalling."

The latest Glasgow target was announced on Friday by Stuart Gulliver, chief executive of the Glasgow Development Agency (GDA).

Mr Gulliver was speaking at a conference aimed at establishing Glasgow as a "learning city". The initiative is part of a determined effort to renew Glasgow's image and move the city off the bottom of the learning league. A Glasgow Learning Alliance has been established, representing 60 organisations, including the education authority, schools, colleges, universities and employers.

The development agency is co-ordinating the efforts and pound;5 million has been earmarked over the next three years.

But a survey of 496 adults aged over 16 in the city, carried out by MORI to complement a national poll on attitudes to learning, found that only a third were involved in any kind of learning activity in the past year, against 53 per cent for Britain as a whole.

And although 92 per cent of those questioned said that they enjoyed learning new things, only 36 per cent said they were likely to participate in learning next year, compared with 50 per cent to 60 per cent elsewhere in Britain.

"These findings mirror those of the nationwide MORI survey of 1996. We have a population that understands the value of learning but is not prepared to do much about it," Stephanie Young, the GDA's director of lifelong learning, commented.

The MORI report suggests that barriers to learning remain, both from competing social activities and a lack of confidence in embracing new technology. It states: "The challenge for Glasgow is to show that learning can occur in all types of environments and can include friends and family, and that technology is yet another tool or rather a myriad of tools in an increasingly full toolbox that should be made available to all to exploit."

Glasgow's efforts to kick-start popular interest, under the umbrella of the Learning Alliance, will include a learning festival, learning helplines, new ways of funding such as "pay as you learn" and learning awards.

The campaign will also set in train a "learning inquiry", which will involve the public and businesses, to discover how more organisations can become involved in staff development and how individuals can overcome the triple barriers to learning - "no time, no interest, no money".

Employers will be a key focus, following the MORI finding that more people in Glasgow are likely to be encouraged to start learning by their employer (41 per cent) than by their friends (38 per cent). This was the reverse of attitudes in Britain as a whole, with British figures of 21 per cent and 38 per cent respectively.

An employer-based strategy is also given impetus by another MORI finding that 65 per cent of Glaswegians would find time to use a workplace learning centre if it helped them do their job better.

The GDA has already begun a pilot project to encourage more employers to become involved. But a Scottish Enterprise study, for its new skills strategy, has confirmed "huge challenges", according to Evelyn McCann, the agency's director of skills.

The study revealed that 80 per cent of companies are aware that learning is important and know it is good for them. But only 49 are prepared to do something about it.

Mrs McCann said Scotland's poor record in lifelong learning could produce "a timebomb of inactivity and unawareness" that would hit home over the next few years as the number of young people declined dramatically.

But the message from Professor Ward and Frank McAveety, the city council's leader, was: "If Scotland is to succeed in making the link between economic regeneration and lifelong learning, Glasgow must succeed."

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