After months of behind the scenes discussions and representations, the UK Opposition parties have succeeded in having a Debate in the House of Commons on the proposed cuts in the funding of Higher Education for many second degree or degree-level courses. The (not very edifying) transcript is available at: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2008-01-08a.223.0&s=speaker%3A10496#g261.0
Eddie Mair of BBC Radio 4’s PM programme has strongly challenged this proposed cut and his relevant blog is still open: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/pm/2008/01/lifelong_learning.shtml
In June 2007, the UK signed up to lifelong learning as a core value in the Bologna Process (see earlier posts here) so how the officials responsible for that can possibly support these HE funding proposals is beyond me. In the UK, people choose their preferred university courses at the age of 16. What adult can honestly say that what they chose at 16 is right for them aged 40 in a changed economic climate? As for the adults now being ‘encouraged’ to work past their expected retirement ages…
In June 2007, I presented a paper at UNISO, Versailles on the subject of visibility of lifelong learning as an option in the UK. In that, I suggested that visibility is poor. The current public debate merely reinforces that view as two, undoubtedly good, institutions dominate the headlines. Many other universities have courses or even whole departments aimed at the huge variety of equally variously-motivated adults who wish to take a second course at degree level. As a society, we need to embrace that love of learning and encourage it. Learning at entry levels, which is where the Government wants to concentrate its efforts, requires experienced people who appreciate the value of learning and who can create ‘pull-through’. Society also needs people who are prepared to change direction, keep mentally and socially active and not become a burden on social security or the health services.
As numbers of 18 year-olds decrease and the divisions between ‘traditional’ higher education courses and some of the more applied courses yawns ever wider, HE in the UK is facing a serious crisis and one that must be addressed robustly. Even the universities that have been open in their questioning of the value of certain Alevel qualifications as appropriate for university entrance have not dismissed the value of vocational courses and those universities also have thriving continuing education departments battling the funding-inspired inanities of expecting assessed essays from those learning for pleasure. The debate is not about making courses fit for immediate employment and then expecting a mythical lifelong employer to pick up the cost of whatever updating is required over the next few decades. The debate is about enabling people to decide to add to their learning and life experience in ways and at times that suit the way their life and, yes, the national economy evolve.