Unified focus to speed up lifelong learning

15th December 2000 at 00:00
A MAJOR report aimed at laying foundations for fundamental change in lifelong learning has been issued for consultation by a powerful combination of the two funding councils and the national enterprise agencies.

In the first such collaboration, the plans emerged from a joint lifelong learning group set up by the Scottish further and higher education funding councils, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

The four organisations have a combined budget for learning of more than pound;1 billion and this "joined-up" initiative suggests they are prepared to align their strategies, policies and budgets to ensure for the first time there is real impetus behind lifelong learning.

Janet Lowe, principal of Lauder College, who chaired the group, said lifelong learning could and should be made more effective, despite considerable existing good practice. "Fundamental change and development" was necessary to ensure learning supported economic, social and cultural life.

Ms Lowe, a board member of Scottish Enterprise, said better communications between agencies were a key factor. An action plan to be drawn up next year will focus on stimulating both individual and employer demand. The group envisages a central role forthe Scottish University for Industry, due to be launched finally next month after a postponement in October.

The funding councils and enterprise bodies are to develop a "joint memorandum of understanding" and a similar agreement will be drawn up with the University for Industry.

The report found that individuals are not always adequately informed about opportunities and that many employers do not place enough value on the relationship between workplace learning and productivity. The funding councils are now likely to take the lead in backing more opportunities for workplace learning, a particular challenge in small businesses where 60 per cent of the workforce is employed. Lifelong learning opportunities are also seen in the report as limited for people in poorly paid employment.

Robert Beattie, chairman of the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, said it is essential for colleges to keep focusing on "employability".

James Hunter, chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, caught the theme of the new initiative which he described as being "to unlock the potential of our knowledge".

The report notes, however, that this potential meets its severest test where adults' basic skills are lacking.

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