‘Education education, education’ underpinned the Labour party’s manifesto in 1997. However since then, educational policies have systematically fallen down the political agenda and most importantly for many people, like myself, aged 19+, adult educational policies have become almost none existence.
Further and Adult education has suffered many cuts since the 2010 election, with its budget was cut by almost a third, and it’s the budget for 2015/16 projected to be cut by another 24%, a whole current generation of people wishing to return to education, will not be able to due to financial reasons.
Adult and further education, is not simply the betterment of education, it reflects back on the overall health of society overall. With greater skills, individuals are able to build healthier and happier lives, with greater job prospects and outlooks, and the ability to take themselves and their family out of poverty by allow them to choices they never thought possible.
However, discussing adult education is a double-edged sword as improving the social economic aspects of society cannot be done through education alone, and other social scaffolding, such as availability of high-quality jobs, housing and other such means would need to be in place to overall improve society and bring out the welfare and gang state.
With removing the budget for adult education, we are effectively removing that olive branch that people can use to remove themselves from impoverished and unhealthy situation in their lives. By preventing people from improving their lives due to financial cuts increases people’s reliance on the state, instead of creating dynamic, able individuals are capable in the workplace, thus undermining the potential for improvements in productivity and economic growth. Removing centres for education for young people aged 19 to 25, They cannot remove themselves to an area of safety and security, where they have the means to be able to better themselves and they effectively lose their choice to remove themselves from gangland culture which is so prevalent in our country today.. This leads to mistrust within the state, and the dissolution of faith within the governmental for continued change.
Researching educational and further educational policies within each of the political parties has shown that many political party’s manifestos have primarily focused on education up to the age of 18, with varying degrees of focus on the ‘next phase’ of learning – from 19 to 25, however above these ages choices for continuing education began to diminish.
Conservatives manifesto has offered a very ‘give and take’ view on further adult education. On the one hand, the Conservatives have promised to “encourage the development of online education as a tool for students, whether studying independently or in our universities” which gives many adult learners the flexibility to study part-time around their full-time work, using many of the online educational suppliers such as the Open University and MOOCs such as FutureLearn and Coursera. Conservatives having accepted that learning and skill building for all adults and young people is crucial for economic recovery, and have set out within their manifesto and number of things to support growth in this area, such as a Career Advancement Service, Personal Career Accounts, and to increase the number of apprenticeships. However, the conservatives in their ideal of increased numbers of apprenticeships have planned to replace classroom-based further education courses. This is disappointing news for those who an apprenticeship is not the most suitable way of returning to education, and by diverting adult skill funding from classroom-based to apprenticeship schemes, more adults wishing to return to education will not have the option to.
As one of the top political players, the Labour Party has made only small headway on adult and further education, which is disappointing for many adult and part-time learners. One of the biggest educational policies a Labour government is promising is a cut in full-time university tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 a year, this idea has be fought with controversy, with some supporters fearing this ‘financially illiterate’ plan will harm the chances of working class students to be financially supported at university with a smaller university budget. Labour also promises to protect the entire educational budget to post-16 education and keep it in line with the rise of inflation, however, this suggests that previous governmental cuts to adult education will still be enforced, and with greater numbers of learners entering into the educational system, the budget per student is likely to fall. Majority of the Labour Party’s manifesto focuses on supporting the learning and employability of young people, but there has been a promise to redesign the 18-24 year old ‘phase’ of development, with better backing and options to support those to progress to higher levels of jobs and learning, which would help every young person become a lifelong learner. However, this is tarnished with the fact that this option is only offered to those between the ages of 18 to 24. Though this manifesto seems to be filled with bad news for most adult education, some headway has been made for other learners with the promised commitment of reducing the proportion of citizens unable to use the Internet, and increased time that prisoners spend working and learning, these are the type of commitments that help many adult learners continue with lifelong learning.
The Liberal Democrats have offered the best pledge to adult and further education, and plan to
“Establish a cross-party commission to secure a long-term settlement for the public funding of reskilling and lifelong learning”. One of their biggest educational pledges is providing extra £2.5 billion for education. They promise to highlight “skills training and back-to-work support to prioritise” by devolving power and resources to “groups of Local Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships” and reforming a Work Programme “in partnership with English local government”. Like many of the other major political players, the Liberal Democrats have also promised to increase the number and quality of apprenticeships, including expanding degree-equivalent Higher Apprenticeships. They have also promised to “Work with university ‘mission groups’ to … enable more part-time learning, and help more people to complete qualifications.”
UKIP, this coming election has offered very little in terms of solid further and adult education. One of their more interesting pledges is the removal of tuition fees for those studying a degree within one of the STEMM subjects, this is only on the condition that they pay UK tax and take up a job within the discipline for around five years once completing their studies. Though this feels like an attempt to improve skills within a hot area of growth, it also feels as if their promises come with many hidden catches. If a UKIP majority or coalitions are voted into Parliament this May, it would be interesting to see how this situation would play out. Also, as many other parties have done this coming election, they seem to have focused their commitments mainly on the young, ignoring almost all the needs for adult skills and employment across those of the working age population. Nothing in their political manifesto highlights specifically adult education and lifelong learning.
The Green party, have an interesting take on adult education and lifelong learning, their manifesto shows a clear commitment to lifelong learning, with the promise “reverse the 20-year programme of dismantling the lifelong learning sector and support mature students” and their proposal to “encourage local authorities to use some of the additional money given to them to restore the full range of local adult education programmes”, including calling for an extra £1.5bn a year funding for further education. However, these promising proposals are undermined by the proposal to “Reverse the trend whereby 45% of apprenticeships, that is, jobs with structured training, are now taken by people over 25.” This is somewhat disheartening, as the age of the individual undertaking an apprenticeship program should not matter, but should open to all that desire a career change, and would require structured training to achieve that goal. Another interesting proposal by the Green party, include the scrapping of tuition fees, alongside the cancellation of debt issued by the student loans Company, allowing free higher education. Unfortunately this proposal lacks detail of whether this would include masters and PhD level qualifications and how many times would you be able to benefit from a free university education, it seems an idealistic dream, given the costs associated with higher education.
Plaid Cymru and SNP
Despite having only nine seats between Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party, both political parties have made significant headway within the electoral process this year.
Plaid Cymru, have called for an extra £1.2billion a year funding for Wales education. Their party is well known for their investments in skills and learning, leading to an inevitable boost within further education and apprenticeships. One of their more interesting proposals, includes building a ‘Citizens’ Service’ focusing on giving young people the skills they need for the work place. The Plaid Cymru party have also promised not to support any further increases in tuition fees for higher education students, and the eventual removal of tuition fees when financially able.
The Scottish National Party, has not made any specific policies on further and adult education within their manifesto, they have however promised to continue to support free university education within Scotland, and promised to offer financial support in grants and loans to students. They have also made the promise to support the reduction of tuition fees across the United Kingdom.
To put it briefly, there is a general lack of understanding of how important further education and skills are for adult learners by many of the political parties, and as voters, we need to fully address this access to learning this during the next government. Basic skills courses for young and older adults need to continue to be fully funded, as well as providing choices other of flexible and accessible courses as well as supporting those with lower level skills at to engage in informal learning. Adult education offers a vital second chance of re-engaging with education to those who for whatever reason have been forced to leave conventional education. At the moment these educational choices are not available to everyone, but if we can support all learners’ right to an education, we have a great chance to give every person the route to becoming a skilled lifelong learner.