The world of work is changing. We need more adult education, not less

Apr 19, 2018 by

The Open University crisis exemplifies the UK’s failure to support adult learning. It’s time to seek inspiration elsewhere

Alan Tuckett –

The current crisis at the Open University illustrates how public support for adult learning has gone so badly wrong in the UK. For nearly half a century, the OU has served a unique role in British educational life, complementing face-to-face learning in place-based institutions with distance education. While the 2012 tuition fees rise increased budgets for most universities, they have been disastrous for the OU, Birkbeck and others serving part-time mature students.

But the crisis in adult higher education participation is not limited to specialist institutions. Step by step, opportunities for adults to learn have been eroded. First, the 100-year tradition of university extra-mural departments aimed at adults closed one by one. Second, state funding for mature students to study at the same level or below their highest qualification went out of the window. Meanwhile, widening participation strategies were concentrated more and more on school leavers. Then the fees rise devastated mature and part-time study, especially at sub-degree level. And once the student number cap was lifted, most universities opted for the easily administered full-time young entrant over the less tidy part-time adult.

Plummeting part-time and mature students

The result of all this is that the number of mature students in higher education has dropped by more than a half since 2011, while universities’ budgets have increased by 25% overall.

In spite of this, the case for public investment in the education of adults is easily made. There is powerful evidence that adults who keep learning enjoy better health, are more productive and have more secure and better-paid jobs, and are more active in civic life. Equally, offenders who take up learning are less likely to re-offend. And people recover better from mental ill health if they engage in learning.

In too many countries a narrow utilitarian neoliberalism shapes policy, despite the evidence that learning leaks out – as long as someone is learning something they are passionate about, their learning and curiosity spill across to benefit work, family and social life.

Source: The world of work is changing. We need more adult education, not less | Higher Education Network | The Guardian

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