Right from his first conference speech as leader of the Liberal Democrats (and indeed before that too), Vince Cable has talked of the need for a post-18 education policy which isn’t just about the minority who go to university but which is also about the majority who don’t:
As a country we have systematically undervalued and disrespected the 60% of young people who do not go to university, and the 80% of adults who never went. That is why I have been working with the National Union of Students on a programme to help all young people.
Many will go into further, and vocational, education but Britain’s record in technical education and training so far is woeful, which is why we now have a chronic skills shortage. That is why in government, the Liberal Democrats launched an apprenticeship revolution. We made a lot of progress but there is so much more to do to ensure that high quality apprenticeships and training are an option available to every young person.
I hope you will indulge me if I explain a bit of family history which shows why I care passionately about this subject. My own parents left school at 15 to work in factories in York. My father went to night school and qualified to teach building trades at a further education college. He and I fell out over his right-wing politics but I never lost my admiration for his life’s work with skilled workers, technicians, craftsmen; people that we now desperately lack. And my mother’s experience makes the point in a different way. She discovered night school after a prolonged period of mental illness when I was a child. She discovered education as an adult; and it helped her to recover.
I was able to apply this experience in government. Alongside Norman Lamb, we were able to secure some funding to reintroduce classes in adult colleges for those suffering mental illness. And it has been a great success.
But the bigger point is the value for everyone, of continued adult learning. Millions of workers in middle age now face their office and factory jobs disappearing with the advance of automation and artificial intelligence. We’ve got to be the party with the answers for those people.
One idea I want to develop with you – with the party – is finding a way to support all young people in future with an endowment or learning account, which they can use at any stage in life – helping to finance further or higher education, either at the post-18 stage or later in life. It is a fundamentally liberal idea, handing control to the individual, and I want to explore how it can be sustainably financed through fair taxation of wealth.
Under my leadership, our party will be the champions of lifelong learning, giving everyone a chance of self-improvement and employment at every stage in life.
Part of the plans are to look again at a graduate tax to fund university education.
For the lifelong learning part, the membership of an expert commission has just been revealed:
Leading figures from across the FE sector have joined the Independent Commission on Lifelong Learning created by the Liberal Democrats…
The chair of the commission has said it will make “bold and far-reaching” recommendations, which will be “informed by open and wide-reaching engagement”.
Rajay Naik, chief executive of Keypath Education and former director of the Open University, made his comments as the expert panel for the commission, launched by Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable in March, was confirmed…
Vince said: “This is a high-calibre group chaired by Rajay Naik and I’m very pleased that they are looking into this important but often overlooked part of the education and skills landscape. They have made an impressive start and I am sure that they will identify strong proposals to increase opportunities to access education and training, particularly in light of fast-paced economic and technological change.”
The members are an impressive line-up:
- Rajay Naik – Chief Executive, Keypath Education (chair)
- David Barrett – Associate Director of Fair Access and Participation, Office for Students
- Stuart Croft – Vice Chancellor and President, University of Warwick
- Stephen Evans – Chief Executive, Learning and Work Institute
- David Hughes – Chief Executive, Association of Colleges
- Simon Hughes – external adviser to the Open University and former Lib Dem MP
- Shakira Martin – President, National Union of Students
- Polly Mackenzie – Director, Demos and former Lib Dem special advisor
- Ruth Silver – President, Further Education Trust for Leadership
- Ruth Spellman – Chief Executive and General Secretary, Workers’ Educational Association
- Matthew Taylor – Chief Executive, Royal Society of Arts (not the former Lib Dem MP)
- John Widdowson – Principal, New College Durham
I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.