A who’s who of major FE organisations have thrown their support behind FE Week’s #SaveOurAdultEducation campaign.
Big names on the list include the Association of Colleges, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, Learning and Work Institute, and HOLEX.
The Labour party also added its backing, while the leader of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron confirmed his support with a personal comment.
The campaign also has the official support of the National Union of Students, the University and College Union, the public service union UNISON, the Public and Commercial Services Union, and the Association of School and College Leaders.
#SaveOurAdultEducation was launched in February at parliament and has three simple demands.
First, we want the government to consult on a proper adult education strategy, one which won’t disappear under the political weight of apprenticeships and devolution.
It’s vitally important the DfE takes the lead and works with other government departments to secure a joint position on lifelong learning
Sue Pember, the country’s former top skills civil servant who now leads HOLEX, said: “We are fully behind this campaign.
“It’s vitally important the Department for Education takes the lead and works with other government departments to secure a joint position on lifelong learning.”
Shakira Martin, the NUS vice-president for FE, said: “Adult education is such an important part of FE.
“It desperately requires a comprehensive strategy that puts the needs of learners at its core.”
Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute added: “Adult learning is a crucial driver of both economic growth and social mobility. We need a step change so that everyone can access the learning and skills they need. That must start with a clear cross-government approach to lifelong learning. And it must be backed by increased investment and new ways of engaging employers and individuals in learning.”
The second demand is for the widespread introduction of FE maintenance grant loans for adult learners, to make retraining easier for older people by covering living costs while studying.
AELP boss Mark Dawe said: “Brexit means adult learning is now an economic imperative.
“There should be a coherent adult education strategy and it is why the latest proposals for FE maintenance loans should just be a first step to making them more widely available.”
The March budget finally confirmed that maintenance loans would be available to certain learners, a year after the government first consulted on the issue.
The chancellor Philip Hammond said maintenance loans would be available “for those undertaking higher-level technical qualifications at the new institutes of technology and national colleges”, set to be introduced in 2019/20.
The AoC chief executive David Hughes backed the campaign, adding: “Access to adult learning now needs a renewed focus.
“When the UK leaves the EU, it will be vital to the economy that adults are able to train and retrain to tackle the skills gaps. However, many are deterred from studying due to the cost of undertaking a course.”
Shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden said: “#SaveOurAdultEducation is crucial to highlight years of neglect in adult education. Simply focusing on 16- to 19-year-olds won’t deliver what we need.”
According to government figures, there are around 1.5 million fewer adults aged 19 or over participating in FE than there were a decade ago, when the figure stood at 3.75 million.
Mr Farron said: “This is a hugely important campaign. We want to see the best education and employment opportunities for all. This must include being able to access high quality education at any age.”
We want to see the best education and employment opportunities for all. This must include accessing high quality education at any age
“The government must come up with a proper well resourced plan for the future of adult education before it disappears entirely,” said UNISON’s head of education Jon Richards.
University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: “If the government really wants to put skills at the heart of its industrial strategy, adults must be able to learn throughout their lives.”
The government’s industrial strategy green paper, unveiled in January, committed to exploring “ambitious new approaches to encouraging lifelong learning”.
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the ASCL, said: “This excellent campaign identifies three key measures which would make lifelong learning considerably more secure and accessible.”
The third demand is to get advanced learning loans debt written off where adult learners are unable to complete courses if training providers go bust.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This is an important campaign, we must continue to fight for adult education to be afforded the status it deserves.”