Needy Niace will be as strong as its voice

17th October 2008 at 01:00

"Now you don't talk so loud. Now you don't seem so proud, about having to be scrounging for your next meal."

OK, Bob Dylan wasn't thinking about Maserati-driving bankers when he wrote "Like a Rolling Stone" - but the lyrics would make thought-provoking reading for those in the banking system who have been proudly boasting of the infallibility of the free market in recent decades.

Those who have offered thoughtful criticism about over-reliance on the market in the education system can take heart from developments. They include Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace).

As the taxpayer has finally been established as the lender of last resort, the banking system has been forced to embrace nationalisation to survive.

Whatever the concerns about the ability of politicians to run banks, this signals a cultural change from which Niace will benefit. The market is no longer king in the imagination of the British public.

With the banks now indebted to all of us, we will expect something in return - a new social compact in which politicians listen as closely to the needs of people as they do to the "demand led" approach to FE that is based on the now thoroughly discredited notion that the market is always right.

Of course, how much of its Pounds 1.9 million Niace is able to get back as a creditor of a failed Icelandic bank remains to be seen. There is no doubt that its activities will be curtailed, at least in the short term.

But Niace's strength was never so much in its resources as in the art of maintaining its currency in Whitehall. As we reassess our values in a new less greedy age, the gentler voice of Niace in the adult education debate has never been more important.

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