It'll be pay as you learn;FE Focus

11th December 1998 at 00:00
Ministers want Scots to see lifelong learning as an asset to borrow against and invest in, reports Neil Munro.

THE GOVERNMENT expects individuals to invest increasingly in their own learning once they leave formal education.

The extent of ministers' ambitions was confirmed to the recent lifelong learning conference in Glasgow by Ed Weeple, head of the lifelong learning group at the Scottish Office. Mr Weeple said: "Borrowing and investing in your own learning should be as common as borrowing and investing in your own home. If people can do it for their physical assets, why not for their intellectual assets?" Statistics challenged "the rosy view of Scotland as a country committed to learning", Mr Weeple said. A study by the continuing education centre at Edinburgh University found 48 per cent of Scots were not interested in further learning (34 per cent in the UK). Only 12 per cent of employees receive job-related training (14 per cent in the UK as a whole).

The social inequalities in learning were as glaring as ever, Mr Weeple said. The 47 per cent of young Scots who go into higher education is reduced to 5 per cent in Easterhouse.

The Government's attempts "to extend the reach of learning" include pound;100 million to create 100,000 "individual learning accounts", the Scottish University for Industry, the National Grid for Learning, Higher Still and the overhaul of community education.

Mr Weeple also cited the extra pound;214 million for further education over three years, including pound;102 million towards the Government's objective of an additional 40,000 student places in colleges and universities by 2002.

But the funding strategy was unexpectedly questioned by one of the Government's own senior advisers. Evelyn McCann, director of skills at Scottish Enterprise, said she hoped the extra millions would not go on bricks and mortar in FE and HE, but to deliver learning through the workplace.

"Our colleges and universities should set out to attract more students and then generate the income to support them," she said. "I fear that dependence on public funding will create more courses which people will drift towards, rather than actively seek out courses which are then provided."

Mr Weeple called on managements to take a leading role with more job-related training. "That is why the Government sets such store by the Investors in People programme and why it is so disappointed that the uptake is so low," he said. Some companies train more than 50 per cent of staff, others involve as few as 5 per cent.

But IIP status is one of the few learning measures in which Glasgow shines. In businesses with 200 or more employees, 83 per cent are either recognised by or committed to IIP, compared with a Scottish average of 59 per cent. Some 40 per cent of Glasgow's workforce are in such organisations.

Mrs McCann said that Scottish Enterprise's new skills strategy requires more "learning people" and more organisations with "learning at the core of their strategy". There should also be "a learning industry which supports but also drives the Scottish economy", she said.

A change in learning culture cannot be done overnight, Mrs McCann acknowledged. "But you have to assume that, when you set out on a journey, it will take longer than you originally thought. That's a reason to keep on going, rather than to abort the journey."

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