Members of SCUTREA Council - as well as those who are interested in contributing - are very welcome to provide a guest post for our blog. Please contact Wayne Bailey should you wish to do so.

February 2018
Ellen Boeren and Nalita James

Has government policy in the four nations woken up to the importance of adult education?

In Wales the recently published Adult Learning in Wales Strategy (2017) has identified adult learning as vital to the economy, and that adults need to be supported to gain the skills they need to find employment; or to progress onto further learning. The strategy embraces learning opportunities which are offered by both FE and HE, as well as other education providers. However, those living in the most deprived areas  of Wales are still least likely to attend university. Scotland and Northern Ireland  have made similar policy commitments. Yet the proportion of mature students is unequally distributed among different types of institutions and elite universities do not have many of them.

In England there is no evidence of a national strategy for adult education emerging, yet a sustained national programme of reinvestment in adult education that includes a lifelong learning strategy is badly needed. Raising standards in HE and FE and creating plural pathways back into learning for all learners, who are educationally disadvantaged or in unskilled, low paid work or out of work, rather than the overwhelming focus of government policy and funding on compulsory school education and full-time HE, would be an important first step. Linked to this is the need for a funding scheme for those most in need, and who want to undertake a degree as there is no lack of ambition to study at higher level among adults beyond the standard undergraduate age of 18 to 21 years even if the motivations are very different to that of an 18 year old entrant. Learning providers could reserve part of their budget to attract adult learners from disadvantaged and under represented groups by providing them with more adequate information, but also offer them more effective information, advice and guidance to ensure transparent pathways are available for those wanting to go on to university.

We would argue that adult education offers benefits not only to the individual, but also to society as a whole, both financially and socially. It  is as an essential part of the fabric of a civilized, democratic society. Removing funding from public adult education stresses the focus on the unidimensional direction of education policy to prepare young elite learners for tomorrow’s labour market, instead of keeping an enlarged focus on social and community aspects as well.  Educational institutions and government bodies have a responsibility to lift people’s perspectives beyond the narrow and restrictive horizons of what they already know, which is a fundamental pre-requisite for social mobility. They also have a responsibility to remove barriers, raise aspirations and open up access to higher education.  So government  policy finally woken up? What do you think?


February 2016
Kerry Harman, Birkbeck, University of London

In a recent article in the Guardian titled ‘The evidence suggests I was completely wrong about tuition feesMartin Robbins claims that:

The data simply couldn’t be clearer. In the last decade, in spite of rising tuition fees, students are more likely to apply for university, poorer students are more likely to apply for university, and the inequality gap – while still a problem – has closed. We’re not talking about small debatable improvements here – these are massive changes.

The problem with Robbins’ claim is that he only cites part of the available evidence, that is, the statistics for 18 to 21 year old students applying to HE. As those of us working on programmes in English universities that provide access to HE for low income, mature students, often without A level (or equivalent) qualifications know, enrolment in HE by a more diverse range of students has declined. 

A more complete picture of the current crisis in English HE is provided when data for all students attending HE in England is examined, rather than just a section of the student population and a section of HE programmes. A recent report on Higher Education in England reveals that between 2010/11 and 2014/15, there was a 55% decrease (143,000 fewer entrants) in part-time enrolments in HE in England, with a 10% drop (13,000 fewer enrolments) between 2013/14 and 2014/15. While not all part time students are mature age, and not all mature students (21plus) are entering HE for the first time, many are. Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data indicate that in the 2010/11 academic year 95,720 mature students with no previous HE entered part-time study in HE in England, and 16,965 of these were from low participation neighbourhoods (POLAR3). In 2013/14 enrolments had decreased to 49,775 entrants with no previous HE, with 9,110 from low participation neighbourhoods. The drastic decline in enrolments has led Callender, who has undertaken extensive research on student finance and participation in HE, to demand that ‘We must act now to save part-time university education’.

A similar decline can also be seen in the decrease in numbers of mature students without HE qualifications enrolled on other undergraduate programmes, that is, programmes other than degrees. In 2010/11 there were 16, 405 students on other undergraduate programmes (with 3,070 of these being POLAR3 students) and this decreased to 6,665 students (including 1,315 POLAR 3) in 2013/14. Moreover, the decline in enrolment of mature students is also evident in fulltime degree study in England. In 2013/14, 41,360 mature students with no previous HE entered the first year of fulltime degree study and of these, 7675 were from low participation neighbourhoods (POLAR3). This was a drop, however, from the 57,780 (9,720 from low participation neighbourhoods) mature students with no previous HE studying fulltime in 2010/11.

A closer look at the detail of enrolments in English HE by particular categories of student suggests that Martin Robbins might not be as wrong as he originally thought about tuition fees and that perhaps Corbyn’s suggestion to abandon tuition fees might not be as wacky as Robbins implies.