The former secretary of state for business, innovation and skills has told FE Week he is “delighted” that the government’s industrial strategy green paper places a serious focus on improving adult education, in an exclusive interview.
The new document out on January 23 acknowledged a “growing challenge” with training for older people.
It committed to exploring “ambitious new approaches to encouraging lifelong learning”, which could include how to make the training costs people face “less daunting”; and provide better information to ensure older people who are retraining learn skills actually needed by employers.
Speaking ahead of a speech this evening at a London event organised by the Workers’ Educational Association, Sir Vince Cable praised prime minister Theresa May for “buying into” the industrial strategy, and using it to broaden out the focus on vocational education.
“I think what is crucial here is recognising that adult education matters, over and above traditional university campus learning and narrowly vocational learning through apprenticeships and so on,” he told FE Week.
“That broader adult education message had got lost, I tried to bring it back but if this government are serious about running with it then I am absolutely delighted.”
However, he also warned that there would also be “various challenges” – citing funding as his foremost concern.
“The adult sector is under quite a lot of pressure and the government has indicated where additional money is going to come from,” he said.
Sir Vince added that devolution could be another sticking point.
“Adult education as I understand it is going to go into combined authorities.
“Some of them may be very enlightened, but whether Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham and the rest do something with it very much depends on leadership at that level.”
He added: “It becomes increasingly important to know what the local mayors and their advisers are doing.”
Sir Vince served as David Cameron’s secretary of state for business, innovation and skills in the coalition government from May 2010 to May 2015, when he was succeeded by Sajid Javid.
In speaking to FE Week on January 25, he emphasised that in his view “true” adult learning should be broad and relevant to many.
He said: “True adult learning as is people who are trying to rediscover their confidence having been out of the labour force, it’s fully retired, it’s people who are marginalised, people who are very busy and only have time for bitesize learning – not going off and doing traditional university courses.”
Sir Vince said that “until recently” the focus has been too narrow with too much emphasis on apprenticeships, but it is not too late for the government to make positive changes.
He added: “I think it’s actually very welcome that we’re looking at this continuing education in a much broader sense.
“We’ve had this long battle with adult education to get away from the very narrow belief in accreditation not understanding the importance of broader adult learning, and if that’s where this industrial strategy helps with that then that’s very welcome.”
He said that he would also be encouraging his former adviser Giles Wilkes, who is now in Number 10 and leading on the industrial strategy, to maintain the focus on adult education.
“He’s an intelligent guy who gets the point,” he said.
In another exclusive interview with FE Week, which will be reported in this week’s paper, apprenticeships and skills minister Robert Halfon discussed how the industrial strategy placed reviving adult education firmly back on the agenda.
Mr Cable said he “hadn’t picked up” that the minister was “singing from the same hymn sheet”, but added, “if that’s the case then I’m absolutely delighted”.
In speaking this evening he also showed his support for David Lammy’s recent move to launch a campaign to bring back night schools, which led to a debate and 61 MPs writing to Mr Halfon in support of the idea.
Sir Vince said: “My parents, who left school at 15 to work in factories and then progressed in life through FE and adult education, were part of that night-school tradition, and they inspired my own belief in the importance of lifelong learning.”