Vocation is not the only route

25th January 2008 at 00:00

Tony Benn's contribution to the last in the series of three FE Focus- sponsored conferences on adult education captured what colleges' more idealistic lecturers believe their jobs are all about.

Knowledge is power, and giving that power to students is as vital as giving them the vocational skills to gain employment.

It is perhaps a sign of the drift in FE's status that learning for personal enrichment is still seen as an awkward subject in colleges, which are repeatedly encouraged to see the employer, rather than the student, as the customer.

Universities attract far more funding from industry than colleges, yet few would complain about their role in providing intellectual inspiration alongside their function as centres of vocational education.

It seems the broadening of the mind is only seen as good for "society" if the term is used in the exclusive sense, defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as "people who are fashionable, wealthy and influential".

"Education, education, education" has come to mean very different things if the ethos of universities is compared with the increasingly skills- orientated world of FE.

A sense is emerging that John Denham, the Skills Secretary, may yet restore learning "for its own sake" in FE. Expectations run high. Mr Denham is seen as a sympathetic voice, but his position as a Cabinet minister will lead many to think his kind words about the wider importance of adult education can be translated into action.

His intervention - if indeed it comes - won't be a second too late. Already, the butterfly of creative adult education is being crushed under the wheel of the Government's brave new education policy - vocation, vocation, vocation.

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