My Lords, in introducing this debate on adult education and lifelong learning, I should start by declaring two interests. I am an honorary fellow of Birkbeck, University of London, and president of the Association of Colleges Charitable Trust.
I thank all noble Lords who have put down their names to speak in this debate and I very much look forward to hearing their contributions and ideas. I am particularly honoured that we will be hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, who, for much of the last Parliament, worked alongside my
We shall also benefit from hearing the valedictory speech of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby, whose career in Parliament spans more than 50 years. During that time, she has contributed so much in so many ways, not least to the world of education. Indeed, the fact that my noble friend Lady Williams, at the age of 85, is making her valedictory speech in this debate accords very well with one of my main themes—namely, that in future many people in this country are going to have to get used to a much longer working life.
Of our current workforce of some 31 million, 12 million are due to retire within the next 10 years, and only 7 million are coming through our education system. My noble friend Lady Williams is a splendid example of someone who has kept up to date and has continued to contribute substantially to society. However, with technology moving so fast, many in the current workforce will find their jobs radically altered and, to remain productive, will need to reskill and retrain, possibly several times during their lifetime.
At the same time, the UK faces a fundamental problem of poor productivity. France, Germany, the US and even Italy all have higher productivity levels than that of the UK. Productivity levels in Germany, for example, are 29% above those in the UK. Skills are a major factor in productivity, yet, in spite of 30 years’ emphasis on skills training, we still have a workforce where 20% fall into the low skills category, while, as the CBI and indeed countless reports keep reminding us, we face chronic shortages in vital technical and professional skills, which are key to raising productivity.
In the UK, adults are regarded as people over the age of 19. Therefore, adult education refers to the education and skills training available to all those over 19. This obviously includes university students and all those in colleges and other institutions completing their education by studying for degrees or vocational qualifications. However, I do not want to dwell on these aspects of education; I want to talk about the older adults—those over 24—and the opportunities open to them to train, retrain and pursue educational opportunities later in life. In putting the emphasis on lifelong learning, I want to include not just skills training but more general community learning, which is important not only in opening up learning opportunities to those who may not have had them earlier in life but in promoting community engagement and keeping people fit and well.
Britain has a proud tradition of adult education. In the 19th century, the mechanics institutes—predecessors of many of our current universities—provided the means whereby workers, often in their own time of an evening and at weekends, were able to gain knowledge and skills which enabled them to move up the income scale and improve their position in society. In the 20th century this continued, with many polytechnics and technical colleges providing access through evening courses to technical and professional qualifications, and with the universities running extension courses and continuing education courses. In the 1950s and
1960s, when only 5% of young people were going to university, these were the main routes by which many people acquired the skills and qualifications they needed. They also provided the impetus for the founding of the Open University, rightly regarded worldwide as the jewel in the crown of Britain’s adult education system.
Today, some 45% of young people in Britain go on to university and study for a degree. The Government are making great strides in developing apprenticeships, building on the foundations laid first by the Labour Party and then by the coalition. What I worry about is whether the ladders of opportunity are still there for the many who left school some time ago and did not go on to study for a degree or go into jobs which trained them and gave them the transferable skills they need for today’s labour market. We have, rightly, been concerned to make sure that our young people get off to a good start in life, but are the opportunities still there for those who, later in life, want to pull themselves up by their own boot straps—to study part-time of an evening in order to acquire qualifications to gain a better job, perhaps filling one of those many technician vacancies that we have, or, for that matter, just for their own personal fulfilment and satisfaction. And what of those made redundant in their 40s and 50s? How are they going to retrain and prepare for new careers? Jobcentre Plus is fine but its main aim is to get people off benefits and into jobs, not into careers.
The trends are not good at present. Since the introduction of the full-cost £9,000 fee at universities in 2012, while the number of full-time undergraduates has increased, part-time numbers have plummeted by 58%. Today, there are 244,000 fewer part-time students studying at our universities than in 2010-11. This has hit the Open University and Birkbeck hard, but it has also led to course closures elsewhere because part-time courses become unviable. We know from the research undertaken by Universities UK that part-time students are indeed a somewhat mixed bunch, but we also know that a large number of them are mature students, many from disadvantaged homes and often with existing debt and family obligations, which makes them much more wary than their younger counterparts of taking on the debt obligations. Part-time study has been a powerful access tool. For those wishing to retrain and take up a new career, the ELQ rule, which excludes those who already have an equivalent level of qualification from getting grants and loans, has proved a substantial barrier to course take-up.
Further education has fared little better. The adult skills budget today is down 35% on what it was in 2009. Fifteen years ago, 50% of students at further education colleges were adult students. Today, it is only 15%. According to the statistics published last week, the number of people participating in adult education, which includes apprenticeships, work-based learning and community learning, as well as those studying for BTECs and professional qualifications, has dropped by 1.3 million in the last five years and, for those over 24, by 500,000.
The one bright spot has, of course, been apprenticeships, where the expansion of numbers, especially for those over 19, has been considerable. There has been considerable criticism though, not least from the Chief Inspector of Schools, of the poor quality of many apprenticeships and their relatively low level, of too many going to those who are already employed, and of the big expansion in the care, catering and retail sectors with hardly any expansion whatever in the skills sectors of construction, engineering and science, where we have chronic shortages. It remains also true that only 15% of employers take on apprenticeships. Reforms in the last two years, including the apprentice levy, have sought to counter the criticisms that have come forward. The hope is that with the extra funding from the levy, and with employers now in the driving seat running apprenticeship courses, the quality will improve and the programme flourish. However, apprenticeships are not everything and do not in themselves constitute a skills strategy, but, at present, they are the only game in town.
I am calling for a more comprehensive skills strategy which addresses helping the over-24s improve their lot if they want to. What happens now if you are made redundant and cannot find an employer who will offer you an apprenticeship? What if you are self-employed, the fastest growing sector in the labour market at present? Who is responsible for training you if you are one of the army of people working as agency staff in one of the many areas in both the public and private sectors where work is now subcontracted out? If you are on a zero-hours contract, who is responsible for your training? There has been much talk about training needing to be demand-led, but demand in this case is always referred to as employer demand. I argue that the individual is an important part of demand.
Let me finish by mapping out the sort of strategy that we need to be thinking about if we are to build a world-class, flexible, skilled workforce. First and foremost, we need a more comprehensive approach that pulls together adult education and skills. This requires much closer working between colleges, universities, the independent training providers and not just employers but the local authorities and other public sector organisations, such as the NHS and DWP, as partners at a local level. We are beginning to see such partnerships emerge within the Core Cities agenda. However, at present, they are extremely patchy and often deal only with skills, ignoring the importance of the adult education contribution.
Secondly, we need to empower the individual to take more control over their own training. The extension of the income-contingent student loans to both higher and further education has had rather mixed success, but the two sectors should be put on a similar footing, and maintenance loans, now extended to part-timers in the higher education sector, should be extended to cover the higher levels of further education courses. Or, given the risk-aversion shown by many mature students to loans, how about allowing 40 year-olds to draw down a proportion of their pension funds to meet training costs?
Thirdly, we need some incentive for the individual to invest in themselves. It is time, I believe, to look again at the idea of individual learning accounts. I hope that perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, will mention those. At the very least, it would be good to allow the individual to claim tax relief on the money that they invest on bona fides education and training courses.
Fourthly, the Government need to relax the ELQ restrictions. Those wishing to study courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM subjects, are already exempt but, given the need to encourage people to retrain, would it not be sensible to introduce much more flexibility to this rule?
Finally, we need to mobilise new technologies to provide what is now called blended learning, which mixes distance learning with campus-based courses to meet the “any time, any place” agenda of modern life. The MOOCs—massive online open courses—are leading the way. This requires, to my mind, one further very substantial advance: the development of an acceptable credit transfer system. We used to have it with the old CNAA but, sadly, it has largely disappeared. This is something on which the universities really have to take the lead and begin to work with the colleges in developing one.
This is all a very substantial agenda. I suggest that we face a huge triple challenge of making a step change in productivity levels at a time when technology is moving so fast and the workforce is ageing. It requires thinking outside the box but it also requires joined-up thinking and a comprehensive strategy under which people and institutions work in partnership towards one end. I look forward very much to the debate and to the response from the Minister. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for securing this debate today. I, too, look forward to the valedictory speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Willetts.
I believe, and I am sure that many other noble Lords would agree with me, that it is education that lifts a nation and allows it to achieve its potential. We cannot ignore the vast potential of those who want to continue learning, and we need to enable easy access to opportunities for adult education and skills, whatever one’s age or stage in life.
In north Lincolnshire, we have made it our mission to ensure that lifelong learning and skills are at the heart of a successful and thriving community. We provide initiatives that engage with the most disadvantaged, those without qualifications and those who are unemployed. Our goal is to develop individual self-confidence through learner engagement, thereby having a positive impact on individuals, their families and communities. Current courses range from personal development to pre-employment skills, health and well-being, parenting skills, languages, ICT, business administration and childcare education. We also offer 24-plus advanced learning loans.
Many of the skills that the UK requires to address shortages can sometimes be gained only in a workplace setting. I am very proud of the Government’s achievements in providing over 2 million more apprenticeships. As we are all aware, new technologies have drastically changed the way we receive and gather information, as well as how we communicate. Although many children now grow up with computer skills almost as second nature, it remains the case that many adults do not have these skills or access to them, which continues to be a barrier to employment. We have therefore developed close working relationships between my local authority and partners such as Jobcentre Plus, looking at working together in shared spaces, leading to joined-up thinking and a positive approach. Tutors now actively look at ways to embed core subjects alongside ICT skills and employment workshops to provide a broad range of skills.
It would be interesting to know from the Minister what steps Her Majesty’s Government are taking to embrace the use of new technologies to deliver lifelong learning opportunities and to improve the recruitment of learners on to traineeships and apprenticeships.
It is estimated that increasing the skills of the UK workforce could generate billions more for the UK economy. I am pleased that, as announced in the Autumn Statement, further education spending on adult skills will be protected in real cash terms, with a significant increase in apprenticeship spending by the end of this Parliament to secure the growth I have mentioned.
I end by stressing that it is all about inspiring people to aspire. Importantly, though, we must remember that while some may have missed out previously, we should not write them off. These programmes can deliver a second or even a third opportunity to achieve their true potential, with North Lincolnshire Council continuing to send a clear, strong message to residents: “Just ask and we will connect and deliver for you”.
(Valedictory Speech) My Lords, I thank all those who are contributing to this important debate for taking a couple of seconds off each of their speeches. I apologise and I will endeavour not to take any more than a couple of seconds out of their speeches. I also thank my many friends and colleagues in the House for coming to this Thursday afternoon occasion, which I know is not the easiest to come to if you are hoping to get off for the weekend.
To me, one of the most important things about this House is that it is not only a revising Chamber—although too often it is reduced to that by the words that are used—but it is more than that. It is a Chamber which keeps close to its heart the fundamental principles and values of this country. In debate after debate and question after question, it flags up the things that are most important about the United Kingdom and explains why this country is in many ways still unique.
“This fortress built by Nature for herself
“Against infection and the hand of war”.
What that really says in very few words is that this is a lucky country. However, in order to stay lucky and effective, a country has to be well governed, and I shall say something about a lapse of successful government in my remarks.
That lapse relates to the special genius of the United Kingdom for great public sector imagination; for commitment to the idea and the ideal of public life.
When I was listening to my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford, I was struck by the fact that she referred, in the case of education, to some of the things that have not been properly done. I shall mention two more. First, she referred to the so-called report given by the 13-19 committee of Mr Tomlinson, the then inspector of schools. The report called on us to link together all forms of education, both vocational and academic, in such a way that an able young man or woman could through their whole lives climb up to greater achievement. We have still not got there. Secondly, she mentioned only in passing, but crucially so, the Open University—one of the great public sector institutions—which enables people for the first time, all their lives long, to gain more education, understanding and wisdom.
I can add other great public institutions. The first is the BBC, which is under a great deal of pressure at present. It is one of the great institutions of the kingdom and is widely recognised throughout the world. I hope it will be allowed to flourish, and not cut down into a second-rate institution.
Another hugely admired public institution is the National Health Service. I still have to say to my fellow politicians, “Why can you not get together and propose, regardless of party, ways in which we can sustain the NHS over many years?”. It is one of the great institutions of the world and is based on a degree of commitment to public service which is quite extraordinary.
Having said all that, your Lordships may ask me why I am retiring. I am retiring partly because my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood managed to pass a recent reform of the House of Lords which enabled someone like me to retire. He said it was not intended. At least it had the advantage of allowing me not to lose my capacities entirely before I departed from the House of Lords.
There is one great issue left—it is the reason I am retiring—and it is the most central political question that this country has to answer. It will arise later this year in the shape of the referendum on our relationship with the European Union. Regardless of your own views, Members of this House will know that all my life long I have been passionately committed to the idea that the United Kingdom should be not only a part but a leading part of the European Union. The future demands that of us. We have to contribute to the huge issues that confront us—from climate change through to whether we are able to deal with multinational companies which wish to take advantage of us—and we can do that only on the basis of a much larger body than our own Parliament, important and significant though that is.
In a period of great tension, strain and fragmentation in the world, we need a commitment by this country and those who are close to us to deal with some of these most difficult issues. I commend the Government for having taken some steps towards one of those difficult issues—namely, how one deals with the most vulnerable, those with most difficulties and the endless flow of migrants and asylum seekers that come to this country. This country has a good reputation in that respect and I hope that it will agree to take more of the boys and girls who are currently awash in
Europe with no parents, no help and no assistance. It is an area in which we are well placed to assist and help.
This country has a long and great tradition of leadership. Increasingly, we recognise that it has to be not only national leadership but global, where we are a part of a larger group of human beings seeking a better world and a better life. It would be a tragedy if this country gave up that kind of leadership because it is essential in the modern world, in which countries are totally interconnected one with the other.
I hand over to my colleagues here. I hope they will give careful and cherishing support for the great public sector institutions I have spoken about, which are part of the warp and weft of this country’s whole being, texture and quality. I ask them to think very hard before allowing the United Kingdom to withdraw from what I believe to be its major duty to the world—the one it will encounter, and then deliver, through the European Union.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the valedictory speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. Appropriately, of course, it was about education but ranged wider, across the whole sphere of public life, to which she has contributed so much throughout her illustrious career, committing her warmth and humanity to one of its finest causes, education. We also owe her thanks for a lifetime commitment to what is honourable and true in public life. She has been an outstanding example to us all, and to many beyond this place, of how to apply intelligence and compassion to the issues that humanity faces, and to hold steadfastly, even when others disagree, to her vision for this country. We have much to thank her for.
As president of Birkbeck I am pleased to join in this important debate and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—a fellow of Birkbeck—for introducing it. The role of adult education and lifelong learning is key to the future of education in this country. If that sounds like an exaggeration, it is because we are only now at the start of a fundamental shift in attitudes to knowledge and skills among the population, both workers and employers. We need education for two reasons: to furnish and sustain the skills and expertise that support our jobs and our economy; and to nourish the sense of who we are, giving depth and insight to our sense of identity and enlarging our common humanity. Both are important and both need to be nourished all life long.
Birkbeck provides part-time education that leads to a full-scale degree for those who are holding down full-time jobs and studying in the evenings. Our colleague, the Open University, is one of the largest providers of higher education in the country. I speak too for the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, who regrets that she is not able to be here for the debate, but who shares many of my concerns. The paradox is that this vital contributor to the future of education has declined by 21% over the past eight years, while over the same period it has increased in Europe by 8%. In the UK there is currently a slump in the numbers enrolling for part-time education, and we must remedy it.
In recognition of this, the Government announced a number of changes in the November 2015 spending review that are sympathetic to the cause, which is very welcome. In doing that, the Government have heard and acknowledged the case for part-time and lifelong learning in serving both individuals and the community. But I would ask the Government to keep up the momentum. They have introduced maintenance loans for part-time students. That has never been possible before and we are glad of it, but there is a snag lurking in the provisions: they do not come into effect until 2018-19. The practical risk is that of a cliff-edge in applications. I ask the Minister if the Government would consider bringing in the maintenance loans sooner, so that students and the institutions that serve them can benefit and flourish immediately.
As of September this year, postgraduate loans will be introduced for the first time for masters students. No support other than through bank loans has been available before, so they are hugely welcome. The cap on age being raised to 60 means that older people can study for a masters degree, which will help recruitment and give some inkling of what is possible: a blossoming of lifelong learning in the future.
The Government have also announced a relaxation in obtaining tuition fee loans for those already holding a degree—equivalent or lower qualification students and those studying science, technology, engineering and maths, the STEM subjects. This is in accord with both our and the Government’s ambitions for the sector, but again there is a glitch. There is concern that no extra funding will be available to support the teaching of these subjects, which involve higher costs. I believe that the future of adult education and part-time study holds the secret to prosperity for decades to come, and I ask the Minister to address my specific inquiries.
My Lords, I was initially educated in India at Osmania University. I gained a bachelor’s degree in commerce, then a law degree at the University of Cambridge, then a diploma in accounting at what is today the London Metropolitan University, and after that I qualified as a chartered accountant here in London. Throughout my training to become a chartered accountant, the first thing that was instilled in us was the concept of continuous professional development. The training started the day you joined and it continues today as a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.
When I started my business career, I thought, “That’s it. My education is over for ever”—but I was wrong. Eight years later I attended the Business Growth Programme at Cranfield School of Management and it changed my life; it opened my eyes to lifelong learning. After that, as an alumnus of Cranfield I went on to the London Business School and attended the entrepreneurship growth programme. As an alumnus of the London Business School I went on to Harvard Business School and attended the Owner/President Management Program, and as an alumnus of Harvard Business School I have just returned from spending a week there—another week for the 14th year in a row.
I have hooked on to lifelong learning. This month I took over as chair of the advisory board of the Cambridge Judge Business School. In 2011 we introduced a programme called the Postgraduate Entrepreneurship Diploma, which is fantastic. President Clinton said that the more you learn, the more you earn; I can vouch for it.
I would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for introducing this terrific debate, and what a privilege it is to be speaking in the same debate as that in which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, has made her amazing valedictory speech. She is a living legend. The biggest compliment I have ever received from a fellow Peer in my time here in this House came after a debate in which both she and I were speaking. Afterwards she came up to me and said, “Karan, brilliant speech, but I did not agree with a word you said”. Well, I agree with everything the noble Baroness said today and her inspiration will live on with us in the years to come.
At Harvard Business School we have been learning about the growth mindset: the concept of continually learning through our lives. From 2005 to 2010 I was the youngest university Chancellor, having been appointed at what was then Thames Valley University and is now the University of West London. The university slogan was “Further and Higher” because it was possible to access further education there rather than attend schools for the last years and, if someone wanted to, they could progress on to higher education. There should be more scope for merging further and higher education, and I ask the Minister to confirm whether the Government think it would be a good idea to encourage a “further and higher” seamless progression.
I recently attended the Vision West Nottinghamshire College headed by its inspiration principal, Dame Asha Khemka, and saw further education being delivered at the highest level in the world. I opened the Vision Studio School in Mansfield and saw how children were able to attend school and become apprentices at the same time. Further, for the past year and a half I have been privileged to be the Chancellor of the University of Birmingham.
Looking back, under New Labour there was a focus on lifelong learning. The coalition Government put more of an emphasis on early years, schools and higher education. The current Government’s emphasis seems to be on schools, higher education and apprenticeships—but what about the rest of adult learning and further education? Over time we have seen many reductions in funding. There was a 24% cut, then a further 3.9% reduction in the adult skills budget. That was followed by a reduction of £45 million in ESOL, while the Association of Colleges predicts that 190,000 adult learning places in further education will be lost by 2016. There was a drop of 12% in mature students entering higher education over the past two years and a 40% fall in part-time students over the same period. Not everyone achieves a decent level of education and qualifications when they leave school; they need the time and the opportunity to further themselves. Does the Minister agree that in an increasingly diverse and multi-ethnic society, including an influx of migrants, adult education and lifelong learning are a means by which we can help adults to cope with diversity and can foster integration?
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said that we will be working for longer. I have a theory about the new world order. We are young until we are 60 and we are middle-aged from 60 to 80. This House, with an average age of over 70, is spot on for being middle-aged. Those aged 80 and over are old. With the cuts that are being made to further education and adult learning, are we prioritising our competitiveness when we lag behind our competitors in terms of skills and productivity? Are the Government adopting a growth mindset on adult learning? Are they playing to win or are they playing not to lose? The Government should be playing to win.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for introducing the debate and from these Benches I want to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. From our perspective she has continually shown a very special and thoughtful faith—faith in people, faith in politics and faith in goodness. That is the kind of model that we all need to aspire to, and the noble Baroness has certainly been a great inspiration to me and to many of my colleagues.
I want to look at skills and the strengthening of the UK economy. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and others about the skills shortage, which is much in evidence. There is a clear mismatch between the needs of business and learning provision. We have heard about the dramatic decline in the number of places for part-time study, and I think that a strong case can be made for earn-as-you-learn opportunities for people at every stage, especially as employment is now such a variable journey for so many people.
Perhaps I may give two small signs of hope from my own experience and to put two questions to the Minister. The first sign of hope is around the question of how organisations and businesses need to be into lifelong learning, too. Some noble Lords will know that I had the privilege of serving on the Select Committee which considered the Modern Slavery Bill. I participated in the work of the committee and I continue to work in that area. I spoke to businesses such as Toyota in Derbyshire, where I work, about supply chains, which is a big issue in the problem of slavery.
The law department of the University of Derby, with which I have been working, has launched a module on investigating modern slavery. It will help businesses and the people who work for them to be trained to discern the temptations and the techniques that criminals use to infiltrate people in slavery into the supply chain. It will also help them to perform better, not just morally but more effectively, through having committed and well cared for workers. That is an example of organisations being resourced to learn by our university sector. I commend that; we need to be on the front foot as conditions change to make sure that the economy is fit for purpose.
The second sign of hope concerns equipping young people for the world of work, which I experience the pain of in my day job. We have a post-industrial arc in Derbyshire. Where there used to be coal mines and heavy industry, now there are just a few fork-lift truck drivers fiddling about in warehouses. Generations of people are unemployed, especially young people.
Yesterday, I was at Derby College. It has 25,000 learners of all ages and stages, including part-time and full-time. It has pioneering links with employers such as Rolls-Royce and Toyota through apprenticeships and other schemes, and it works with 14 year-olds coming out of school. It helps young people engage with the world of work and learning, not just for a specific task such as an apprenticeship might deliver but to have an attitude and a confidence to engage with employers and work that will equip them for the future.
Derby College is working at the micro as well as the macro level. I came across a remarkable woman of 19 and has trained as a hairdresser. She has opened her first salon, giving jobs to other people. She said, “It’s so wonderful to make others feel better about themselves”. She is obviously quite a good hairdresser if that is the result. The micro level is very important in a flexible economy to create those opportunities. There is also cradle-to-grave learning. The college is involved with crèches, with 14 to 16 year-olds, older learners and relearners. We have to give people an aptitude for learning.
I have two questions for the Minister. First, given the funding pressures and the complex journeys in and out of work that many people experience, how can the Government encourage seriously an earn-as-you-learn opportunity? For many people I know and work with, it would make a huge difference if you could upskill by earning at the same time. Secondly, with the regionalisation and devolution that is happening, we are creating quite large units to generate proper economic capacity in a global world, which is proper and which I appreciate. But, as those large, devolved economic units are crafted for the national economy, how will we hang on to localness, with places such as Derby College being able to negotiate with local communities, the people in them and their needs, to bring them into the world of work and continuing learning? We must not mirror large-scale economic activities with vast learning agencies that lose that local touch and local connection. I should be glad if the Minister would comment on how those things might be held together.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Sharp on instituting this debate. I hope that she will not mind if I focus particularly on the second half of the Motion, but first I want to say how incredibly privileged I feel to have been here to hear such an inspirational valedictory speech by our great colleague and noble friend Lady Williams. The fact is that you have no idea what a truly effective political campaign is until you see Shirley Williams in action. I was privileged to see her in action and the impact that she makes at very close quarters on the Health and Social Care Bill just three years ago. If I had been the Government, I would have capitulated instantly. It took a bit of time, but my noble friend got there so effectively. I know that she will be just as effective and passionate in campaigning outside this House as she was in it, but we here will miss her enormously.
I want to focus on how our creative and tech industries can obtain, now and in the future, the skills that they need to develop and grow this increasingly important sector of the economy. Creative industries make a major contribution to the UK economy— £84 billion at the last count—but the vast majority of those businesses are small. Freelancing, too, constitutes 30% of the sector overall. These present major challenges to concerted action on skills. Creative Skillset reports a great number of skills gaps: it is bad in London but even worse outside. This involves not only digital and software skills but craft and technical skills as well. In the tech sector, it is clear that we need 1 million tech jobs to be filled by 2020 to keep up with demand. Of course, there are concerns about the quality of business skills in the creative sector, too.
I pay tribute to my former colleague, Sir Vince Cable, who was a BIS Secretary intent on developing an industrial strategy for the creative sector and instrumental in the creation of the Creative Industries Council, which has started to address the key issues in the sector, including skills shortages. However, despite huge progress since 2010, still only 1% of the current workforce comes from an apprenticeship route.
I welcome this Government’s pledge to create a further 3 million apprenticeships across the board in the period to 2020, but the new apprenticeships levy, introduced by the Chancellor, is a major concern for the creative industries, not simply because it will affect more smaller businesses than originally anticipated. There are key questions about how it will operate. I hope that the Minister will be able to address some of them. Will contributions from the creative industries be invested for the benefit of those industries? Will government investment continue alongside the levy? Will there be transparency in how contributions are invested? Will there be a joined-up, UK-wide approach in line with an industrial strategy for the creative industries? Will businesses be able to set some of their internal costs incurred in developing standards and administration against the levy through an allowable expense system? If there is to be a levy, it must be fit for purpose.
Achieving diversity is also a major challenge for the industry. Access to career pathways is obscure for those without connections. Unpaid internships are all too common. Interns can be useful, but they must be paid. I pay tribute to the music industry’s efforts in this respect. Overall in the creative media, women, BAME people and the disabled are badly underrepresented. Idris Elba spoke passionately about this, addressing MPs and Peers in the House only last week. We need to attract, develop and nurture their skills to the maximum to identify and develop them faster. Mentoring, as NESTA has identified, is crucial.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, said last week, we particularly need to take action to encourage more women into the tech industry, where women hold only 17% of the jobs. There are now some excellent, prominent role models in the tech sector, but we must do more at the entry level; the process must start at school. In the creative sector, PSBs and the independent sector need to show leadership in efforts to increase diversity and social mobility. Creative Skillset advocates a code of practice between the independent sector and PSBs and commissioners to include explicit commitments around training and recruitment.
I welcome changes to the national curriculum so that it now includes coding and computer science. Computer science has been made part of the science strand of the English baccalaureate. But it is disappointing that the Government seem so intent on a STEM rather than a STEAM agenda in our schools. The shape of EBacc confirms the original fears of the industry. The truth is that we need students going into the creative industries to be multidisciplinary.
There are many other issues on skills in the creative industries: visas for international entrants where skills are at a shortage; the importance of clusters; the relationship between universities; and in particular the AHRC knowledge exchange hubs in London and the nations and regions, such as the Creative Exchange and Creativeworks. What support are the Government giving to those hubs? What action are they taking to ensure that the two skills councils work ever closer together? Indeed, they should merge into a powerful and effective body to make sure that we plan and make the right strategies for the creative industries.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on obtaining this debate on such an important topic for our future competitiveness and prosperity. I feel truly privileged to be speaking so soon after the magnificent valedictory speech, so characteristically inspirational and profound, of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, whose great contribution to this House we shall so much miss. I also look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, immediately following mine. This is one sandwich where I fear this bit of the filling may prove less nourishing than the bread on either side.
I speak from my perspective as a member of the ad hoc Select Committee on Digital Skills, whose report, published last February, I hope we will eventually have a chance to debate. It is titled Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future. That reflects the importance of the issue as we saw it. It finds that, increasingly, the digital economy is becoming virtually synonymous with the national economy. As a result, digital skills are becoming necessary life skills—everybody needs them. But there is a significant and growing shortage of digital skills in the UK, especially at higher levels of digital expertise and, as we have heard, among women. Although we are currently reasonably well up with the international field, we will need to run fast to keep up. Quite a few countries are some way ahead of us.
Tackling these challenges needs to involve education at all levels, not least adult education, as well as business, training providers, the third sector, regional bodies, and, of course, government at all levels. The report argues that central government needs to co-ordinate these efforts, acting as the “conductor of the orchestra”, by developing an ambitious and comprehensive digital agenda, driven at Cabinet level, with the aim of being,
“up with the best leading digital economies across the board in five years’ time”.
One element in such an agenda is ensuring:
“The population as a whole has the right skill levels to use … digital technologies”, so it is worrying to learn that the number of people in adult education has declined by 1.3 million since 2010. This calls for: first, a focus on learning to learn, with increased emphasis on self-learning and online learning, including the MOOCs that the noble Baroness mentioned; secondly, a commitment to meet the Government’s target that by 2020 everyone who can be digitally capable, will be; thirdly, a significant increase in the number of girls studying STEM subjects, or—better still—STEAM subjects, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, just mentioned; fourthly, a target for at least 10% of the workforce to have high-level digital maker skills by 2020; and fifthly, facilitation of a bigger role in skills development for business and industry.
Another requirement identified by the report is:
“A world-leading further education system for digital skills”.
Despite pockets of excellence, further education seemed to us patchy at best. Again, we highlighted a number of needs, including: a consistent and agile offer across FE providers; facilitation of strong partnerships between industry and further education, such as those we are already beginning to see, which some FE providers are creating with emerging digital technology firms; more apprenticeships across the board, including digital apprenticeships, although all apprenticeships should include a digital skills element; and a funding system to promote short, flexible courses, as well as apprenticeships.
A number of colleges and other bodies, such as FELTAG—the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group—the Ufi Charitable Trust, which runs programmes to help teachers learn to apply digital technology, and the Learning and Work Institute, with its citizens’ curriculum project, are doing good work in nudging the culture of adult education towards a more digital future, but this is not yet widespread enough. The combination of the emphasis on apprenticeships, admirable though that is, cuts in adult skills budgets and the attention being focused on the area reviews process, seems to have led to adult and lifelong learning being overlooked, both in general and in relation to the need for improved digital skills.
I will not try to cover other relevant recommendations of the report—for example, in relation to better careers guidance and the value of promoting regional clusters. In their response, the Government confirm that putting the UK at the forefront of digital transformation is a key priority and recognise the scale and importance of the challenges that must be addressed and the need for far-reaching ambitions that will have sustainable impact. They have promised to publish a cross-government digital transformation plan later this year, as part of their overall productivity plan. Meanwhile, I hope that the Minister can tell noble Lords about how the Government and her department are progressing this agenda, so that everyone, including adult learners, can learn and deploy the digital skills we need to strengthen our economy.
(Maiden Speech) My Lords, it is an enormous honour for me to be speaking for the first time in your Lordships’ House. Inevitably, as I stand here to give my maiden speech, I think back to a maiden speech I gave in another place, 24 years ago, after I was first elected to represent the constituency of Havant. I have tried to reflect my debt to it in taking it as part of my title. The borough of Havant includes the town of Emsworth, where PG Wodehouse lived for a time and after which he named one of his most famous characters—though I resisted the temptation to take the title Lord Emsworth.
Already, only two months since my Introduction, I appreciate the distinctive character of this House and the experience that is brought to debates such as this. I pay tribute to the excellent opening speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and of course to the formidable valedictory speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who rightly reminded us that politics is about public service. She gave a great list of national institutions in which we can all take pride.
I remember going on “Any Questions” with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, once. It was a cold day and I had put on rather a tatty pullover. As we marched up the steps to start the radio broadcast, she pointed at a hole in my pullover and said, “Moths”. I could not work out whether that was an example of her shrewd observation or psychological warfare.
I express my gratitude for the kindness, appreciation and advice I have received from Members on all sides of the House, and for the excellent support, guidance and courtesy that we receive from everyone who works here. I particularly thank my noble friends Lord Lawson and Lady Evans, who did me the great honour of introducing me to the House. I began my career in 1978 as Nigel Lawson’s research assistant and was then his Private Secretary as an official in the Treasury. His formidable intellect impressed me then and continues to impress me to this day. I was also introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Evans. I hope I do not embarrass her by revealing that she began her political career as my research assistant when I was the Member of Parliament for Havant. She was energetic and lively then and it is marvellous to see her gracing the Front Bench today. These links between my noble friends Lord Lawson, Lady Evans and myself constitute a kind of series of apprenticeships. They remind us of the ties between the generations, which are why apprenticeships strike such a chord and which are so important in holding our country together.
The subject of this debate is a cause that is particularly close to my heart, because of both my ministerial experience and my family background. My family were artisans and craftsmen working in all the Birmingham trades—silversmiths, glaziers and gun-barrel makers. My father was an engineer who was very proud that he ran the apprenticeship programme for his Midlands manufacturing firm, IMI, which is still in the FTSE 100. My mother worked at Cadbury’s Bournville factory and remembered the enlightened support that enabled her to take up what was then called day release, to go to her local college and start training as a teacher.
As I say, I was also keen to participate in this debate because of my own ministerial experience. I am still involved in education, not least as a visiting professor at King’s College, London, and chair of the advisory board of Times Higher Education. The one omission from the excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, listing our great institutions, was our universities. Our universities, scientific institutions and learned societies are also distinctive institutions in which we can take great pride. I am sure that we will continue to protect and sustain them by ensuring that they receive the public support they need and continuing to respect their autonomy, which is so important for their characteristics.
My Lords, it is a pleasure and an honour to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, on his fine and witty maiden speech. I have known him since he was a member of Lady Thatcher’s Downing Street policy unit in the 1980s and have long admired the intelligence and care he brings to public policy. Whenever people say to me that politicians favour policy-based evidence rather than evidence-based policy, I am tempted to say, “Do you know David Willetts?”, by way of antidote. As Minister for Science for four years, he was greatly respected in the world of the learned societies, not just for protecting the science budget, which really mattered, but for the seriousness with which he took, and takes, the life of the mind generally. I look forward with relish to his future speeches and much, much wisdom to come.
When it comes to adult education, I have a hero: R H Tawney, economic historian and pioneer of the early days of the Workers’ Educational Association. I am wearing a tribute to him. He was a man of tweed, who used to light up a pipe which would set his tweed jacket on fire at regular intervals. I have forsaken the pipe but I am wearing my Tawney tweeds to salute him and, indeed, his pioneering days as a founder of the Workers’ Educational Association. Listen to him for a moment lecturing in 1953 to mark the 50th anniversary of the WEA.
“The purpose of an adult education worthy of the name”, said Tawney,
“is not merely to impart reliable information, important though that is”.
“We can, if we please, resign the search for solutions to our problems to the superior wisdom of persons who are delighted, if we will let them, to do our thinking for us. We can, again, evade the perplexities which that search involves by taking refuge in the illusory consolations of dogmatic ideologies, whose votaries, by claiming the possession of prefabricated formulae adequate to all situations, are dispensed from the necessity of grappling seriously with any one of them”.
Powerful, stuff, my Lords—adult education as the stimulator of a free trade of the mind, which is what it is all about and always has been.
Twenty years after Tawney took to the lectern to deliver those words, I found myself, as a young journalist on what was then the Times Higher Education Supplement with adult education as part of my beat. The big story of that year, 1973, was the publication of the Russell report on adult education. I think it repays rereading. Sir Lionel Russell and his colleagues looked back to the pioneering days of Tawney and forward to our time, to this very era in the 21st century. Section 42 of Rab Butler’s fabled 1944 Education Act laid an obligation on local authorities to make provision for the education of adults. Russell and his colleagues thought that it was patchy and inadequate—just the same sort of feelings that we have expressed in your Lordships’ Chamber today. Russell pressed for what he called “a comprehensive service” for adult education in England and Wales which, at that time, was in receipt of but 1% of national spending on education.
Looking forward to the 21st century, the Russell committee foresaw substantial changes in the patterns of work and leisure and changes in the education system. What worried them was the possibility that a,
“more complex, more open and more mobile society will also run the risk of discovering new forms of social casualty”— an interesting phrase—
“and there is nothing in contemporary trends to suggest that, as we become wealthier as a nation, social casualties will not occur or that adequate funds will automatically appear for their relief”.
For all my natural sympathy, then and now, with the thrust of the Russell report, I think that the idea of a comprehensive adult education service never quite fitted us as a nation with our eclectic, very British mixed economy of voluntary and publicly provided adult education, not least because there is a danger of loading too much freight upon adult education as a filler of gaps left by earlier formal education, a contributor to the skills base of the workforce, a trainer for social leadership and community action and a stimulator of individual artistic or literary activity.
The Russell committee, for example, did not foresee and could not have foreseen the cornucopic possibilities for individual and shared learning opened up by the digital revolution. Even the magnificent, cumulative success story of the Open University, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, reminded us, was at its fledgling stage when the committee reported.
Another example over the past quarter of a century of adult education, the appetite for which is widely shared, is the glorious efflorescence of the literary festivals, with more than 360 in the country last year. It is almost as if a secret known only to the WEA, the university extra-mural departments and the wonderful Historical Association—I declare, with pride, my honorary membership of the Bolton branch of the Historical Association—suddenly transported itself to the marquees and halls of our glorious literary festivals. You can fill a hall at a literary festival to talk about politics in a way that you cannot if you are a professional politician. It just shows that Oscar Wilde was wrong in this sense when he said:
“The trouble with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings”.
No one minds the literary festivals taking up too many evenings—they love it.
The divine spark of adult education is either lit or waiting to be kindled within all of us. For adult education, as Tawney said, should be concerned,
“not merely with the machinery of existence, but with the things which make it worthwhile to live”.
Finally, I add my fond farewell to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. She understands so well the wider Tawney tradition and so much more. The noble Baroness has been a friend and an adult educator of mine for more than 40 years. How fortunate I have been.
My Lords, this is a debate that I never thought I would speak in, because I never thought that my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby would ever leave. She has cast a rather deeper shadow than virtually anybody else I have worked with and it has been my privilege to work with her. It is in that spirit, also, that I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, to the House—and say that we all have a story like that about my noble friend Lady Williams. You are in awe of her and then she brings you down to a mundane, happy place for a moment and then hits you over the head with an intellectual argument that weighs a tonne. That is how I will always remember her.
The thing that inspired me to speak in this debate so very ably introduced by my noble friend Lady Sharp is a fairly steady theme of mine: how we deal with those with hidden disabilities and their ongoing education, particularly dyslexics—and I draw the House’s attention to my declared interests. I have read through the information briefings that arrive—some asked for, some not—for these debates and what is always raised is the literacy problems in our country. Dyslexia—hence the word, so I am told; I do not speak Greek—comes from a difficulty with language. English is a particularly bad language for us because it does not have a phonic tradition. In fact, it has two phonic traditions, one French, one Anglo-Saxon. As we cannot go back and get rid of the Norman invasion, we have to live with that world. We have to go on and work through it. The problem tends to be that we get obsessed with the idea that this group has to pass an English test. We do not say that we can improve your English or that we can find ways around it but, in the modern world, we can for the first time. For about the last decade and a half, there has been reliable technology that will transfer the spoken word into the written word and vice versa. There are ways of dealing with the problem, but we are still obsessed with the idea of the English language test.
Those in this group are told that they have to improve their language skills in a classroom—a classroom in which they have already failed and in which conventional teaching tactics do not work. When you talk about any form of education, particularly adult education when you are either on a second chance or are improving skills, this becomes even more difficult, because you are going to a group who have been told or have learned from experience that this is not where they prosper. You are going back to a set of skills that they have already failed to acquire and may, indeed, often find their own children acquiring quite easily. So are we going to start training our adult educators to be able to spot this problem? I do not mean having a few specialists; I am talking about making sure that the average person who takes part in a classroom—as an instructor, tutor, lecturer, call it what you will—knows how to spot and understand the problem, and acquire different tactics for that person and say, “Speak to the expert”, and when the expert tells them how to change their behaviour, understands why they have to do it. Because the idea that you must pass English and maths or you are really just not the thing, we cannot work with you, is actually out of date. There are ways around this problem. You can access learning potential now by doing other things. Will the Minister say, when she replies, what steps are being taken to make sure that those who are doing the basic provision at least have some knowledge of these conditions?
If we agree that improving literacy skills, or accessing literature, is a major problem, what are we doing to address it? What are we doing to improve in the correct way and, when no improvement can be made, to find a way round and through? Because such a way now exists. This is a big challenge, a cultural challenge, but if we are not to continue writing off large groups—and we keep being told that we cannot afford to do so—surely it is a challenge we should engage with forthwith.
My Lords, I welcome this important debate, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who is a doughty defender of education and science in the House of Lords. It has been an occasion to listen to the valedictory speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. She quoted from “Richardsb II”, but I usually hear another quotation from that play:
“let us sit upon the ground.And tell sad stories”.
However, this is a relatively happy story of British education, social and cultural life, as other noble Peers have mentioned. Over the past 50 years, in my experience as an academic and in this place, adult education has evolved, with huge changes, particularly in information technology and new educational approaches; for example, through social learning.
It is worth remembering, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, mentioned, that WEA lecturers would travel out to small meetings in remote towns and villages to present and discuss every possible subject, from Egyptology to advances in technology. I drove from Coventry to Ludlow to give a day’s course on engineering in 1966, organised by Birmingham University’s extension learning. Interestingly enough, before you were allowed to go off and say your thing in these villages, you had quite a grilling by the administrator of the Birmingham University centre.
Many universities provide such programmes, which complement those regularly provided by further education colleges and local community colleges. Cambridgeshire was and is famous for utilising village colleges and inner-city comprehensives—newly formed, of course, in my life, thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams—to provide evening and weekend courses. I was able, for example, to take an evening course in German given by the same excellent teacher who taught my daughter at primary school during the day.
It sounds rather ideal but it was. It was also a good way for the chairman of governors, as I was, to get a better feel for the college.
As things changed, it was exciting to be at meetings in the 1960s as academics and politicians discussed the formation of the Open University. It was the great achievement of Jennie Lee in Harold Wilson’s Government, as is well described in the biography of Jennie Lee by my noble friend Lady Hollis. Of course, the formation of the OU was a delicate matter, given the existing organisations, but it very cleverly complemented the existing adult education, which arranged lectures by the WEA and further education colleges, so that the facilities and lecturers were all made use of but new things developed.
The OU had the technical, academic and presentational resources, with the BBC, to make remarkable programmes, broadcast on the BBC, which were viewed by the general public. People used to say to me, “My God, Julian, I saw you at 5 am this morning lecturing on air pollution”. It showed that they were sleepless, but the interesting point was that it was an astonishing dissemination of knowledge.
Of course, these programmes were used in formal education. They were very often used by teachers as part of their further training. Indeed, the high quality led to many OU TV programmes being used as part of undergraduate and graduate courses at universities all over the world. In China, they have an interesting approach to intellectual property. They used to take OU courses and chop them up into little bits and put them together again in all sorts of new ways. That would be absolutely impossible here. The OU extended its ideas of graduate education to other countries; for example, in Hong Kong they have its programmes.
However, then and now, there remains a significant defect in the provision of advanced part-time, especially evening, courses in the UK. Many of my academic colleagues working in the large conurbations of the United States regularly give their advanced courses in the evenings. Most seminars in universities are relayed to all the companies in Silicon Valley, for example. We have nothing remotely similar to that kind of knowledge dissemination. In London, Birkbeck College and City University are renowned for their evening lectures but inevitably the range of courses is very limited. When I returned from the United States in the 1960s, I expected to find courses in London in advanced engineering and mathematics—absolutely not.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, explained, business learning is thriving but not for many of these other areas of technology. However, some 35 years later, with colleagues at University College, we were able to establish this kind of programme but for only a few years. Sadly, funding was not able to be continued.
There are many ways in which adult education can work at all different levels but we have to think about the competition from other countries.
My Lords, the importance of this debate is immense—the last words of the Motion refer to strengthening the United Kingdom economy. I thank my noble friend Lady Sharp for introducing this subject.
I have a small business background. In addressing skills and lifelong learning, I will be talking about further education colleges and their importance. They are vital. Our college in Weston-super-Mare, Weston College, has convinced me of the key importance of further education. In fact, there is a massive need throughout the country for this facility to be available. We need to bridge the gap between what business needs and what actually happens. Weston College has a close relationship with business—a two-way process, with potential employees as well. The college personnel visit schools to speak to pupils as well as teachers to help communicate the real skills that business and the economy require.
On skills, there is a real need for apprenticeships at all ages—lifelong learning. Our economy will prosper only through training and skilling. This means a close contact between FE and business. That is why it is very welcome that in Weston-super-Mare we have the Business Enterprise Centre sponsored by Weston College. It has terrific results when it comes to reality—close contact between business and the economy and training and skills.
On reskilling, it is not enough to have some FE colleges; we need more, but all must be in contact with the real world—business, the learners and the teachers. Weston’s Business Enterprise Centre is a great hub of activity. We need more of this approach in this country to encourage the economy. More than 800 students of all ages are involved. As I said, it is extended through consistent contacts with the Business Enterprise Centre. We need this recruiting to help staff on both sides, to encourage and to inform. In order to advance and strengthen our economy, we need open thinking not only from firms but from potential employers, including learners, who have to be up to date. We need clear thinking generally.
While covering this subject, I would like to put one concern to the Minister and others: the need not to lose skills. Increasingly, there is a worry that the experience, knowledge and expertise gained by people who have worked a lifetime in their particular field is at risk of being lost. In that respect, we are talking about succession planning.
I urge the Minister to ensure that the Government give priority to skilling, based on the experience that I have had with Weston College, one of the very best in the country. In all this, we need to ensure clear thinking on all sides. By that, I mean good training when it comes to management; not all managements in business necessarily have a very good approach to the workforce. The heads of companies and organisations often need training to understand that you are only as good as the team you motivate and have around you. It comes down to lifelong learning for all of us, be it an employer, a business, a learner or needing to change our particular emphasis when we are adults.
Finally, shortly after I left school, I went to a company which was very much run as a “them and us” company. I was asked to go back to it many years later to change that. To me, it is very important that managements are trained as well as their staff to ensure that they run their companies and the business field well.
I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. For me, as for many women of my generation, she has been a true inspiration and role model. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for raising an urgent issue of relevance to an ageing population, in particular a population faced with the challenge of a workplace that increasingly demands continuing adaptability.
As a neuroscientist, I have a fascination with how the brain learns, how it learns most effectively and the impact that the learning experience has on one’s subsequent state of mind. First, I challenge misconceptions that the young will automatically learn better than adults. We know that throughout life the brain remains plastic—that is, highly dynamic and sensitive to experiences, with every moment you are alive almost literally leaving that experience, that mark, on your highly impressionable neuronal circuitry. We therefore continue to learn throughout our lives. We may even do so more effectively in some ways than those who are younger. For example, one study has revealed that, across a range of ages from 20 to 83, older individuals were capable of processing a wider range of sensory inputs. They were more likely to try and fit what they learnt into a more extensive conceptual framework.
This brings us to a second issue: the importance of tailoring education specifically to adults, according to a different learning style. Since the 1960s, it has been recognised that different types of intelligence are dominant at different stages of life. A psychologist at the time, Raymond Cattell, mooted a distinction between what he termed fluid versus crystalline intelligence. The former was evidenced in the ability to give the right answer efficiently to a given input, while crystalline intelligence represented not so much processing information but the acquisition of knowledge. In early adulthood, fluid intelligence drops off quite dramatically, but in favour of a reassuringly steady growth in the type of learning where one places the new item into an ever wider context where, as with the connectedness of a crystal, the brain more readily joins up the dots—in this case almost literally by forging ever more robust and extensive neuronal connections. Hence, traditionally, wisdom is more readily attributed to adults than to children, who may well be clever and fast in absorbing facts but without necessarily understanding and appreciating the wider context. If, as the brain sciences are suggesting, the adult is more likely to see the bigger picture of what they are learning then it is essential that we maximise the opportunities in later life for this ability to flourish.
The third point is therefore on the impact of adult learning on well-being, and hence its clear societal benefits. In 2015, an astonishing 70 million work days were lost due to mental health problems, at the cost of £2.4 billion. Any approach that can reduce such absenteeism is likely to have a significant impact on the economy. Research shows that formal learning in adulthood can do just that. The individual feels less marginalised and gains more meaning to their life. It also widens their social networks and thus improves their employment prospects. In one investigation with participants diagnosed with either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, a formal learning period led to an increase in those in paid employment from 33% to 48%, while the number undertaking unpaid voluntary work had also increased significantly from 8% to an astonishing 38%.
Far less expected, as the brain ages, is an improved learning ability if you take physical exercise. A study in 2011 tested individuals aged 55 to 80, randomly assigning half to an aerobic exercise group and the other half to the so-called control group, where they merely had to stretch. Over a 12-month period of three sessions a week, the stretching group displayed normal age-related mental decrement but for those engaging in aerobic activity, scans revealed an increased volume in a region of the brain, the hippocampus, that is related to memory. It seems that the critical issue is indeed to get blood pumping around the body and into the brain. Another investigation reported that, over a three-year period, those who spent most time in a range of physical activity had less brain shrinkage than those who engaged in exclusively cerebral pursuits.
In summary, learning ability is not just a talent of the young: as we mature, deep knowledge is more likely to be an outcome of education programmes than can be guaranteed among children. Inevitably, this broadening of the mind, ideally maximised further by raised physical fitness, will have incalculable benefits on personal well-being and confidence, reflected inevitably in turn by increased value in the workplace.
My Lords, I join others in the House in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on securing this meaningful and timely debate. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on her valedictory speech and on her reference to public service. One thing that comes to me from all that she has done is that people are at the heart of everything, and how things impact them. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Willetts for his maiden speech. He is often referred to as “Two-brains Willetts”; I have got by on one but, at times, two would have been very helpful. I also thank the Open University and the Association of Colleges for their briefing material, which has been helpful.
Forgive me if I state the obvious but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has already referred to, as an economy we need more people to remain in the country’s workforce and labour market for longer. This inevitably means a constant need to update and upgrade, and learn new skills to ensure that our economy continues to thrive. We have a skills shortage now and, from all we are told, as technology advances and markets change this is set to continue. The need to increase productivity is a constant challenge and one that will be met if our workforce have the right skills and, just as importantly, if those being prepared for the labour market are equipped with the skills that they need to make a good transition to it. Adults whose jobs are no longer needed, for a variety of reasons, will need and indeed will want to continue to work. They will need to be reskilled as well as upskilled. Without doubt, they will want to be of value to the economy and society. They will understand and readily take the challenge to adapt by upgrading their skills.
Another practical point I would make is that many adults realise at different points in their lives that they need to do and learn new things. How many people have we heard say, “If only I had appreciated at school that I needed to learn these skills to do the job I want to do. If only I had not wasted my time in education. If only I had fully appreciated what opportunities there would be for me, and planned my development more thoroughly”? For some, the moment comes when real motivation kicks in, and it comes at different points for so many.
Noble Lords will be aware of my past role at Tomorrow’s People. I remember so well a young man, not a million miles from here, who had been able to generate income from doing things that we wished he had not. He had done very well at it, and it took some time to convince him to go down the conventional route of employment, but he did just that. What surprised us was that his mother appeared in our office and said, “If you can do it for him, you can do it for me”. Her moment had truly come.
I remember, too, when the youth training scheme was introduced. Many people condemned it, saying it was no good and not helpful, but it did help many young people to get jobs. I remember going to the Manpower Services Commission in Moorfoot because I had had a delegation of adults saying, “Why can’t we have that?”. I asked the powers that be why we could not do it for adults. They said they did not know, so we put a proposition to them. They let us do it, and we started to get adults into a better position to compete in the labour market. The one thing that strikes me is that the bureaucracy there was quite limited. I guess we would not get that today, but I hope we can find some flexibility to respond more to the needs of the people that want us.
Ongoing training, skills development and education for everyone are critical to our economy. However, to have that, we need capacity and as flexible an approach as is practical, if we are to maximise the potential and ensure that we have the highly skilled and motivated workforce that employers need. I am glad that the Government have at least maintained the adult skills budget in what are challenging fiscal times.
However, even if we can get that flexibility, and we are really proud of and marching on with apprenticeships, there are only full-time ones. Is there any opportunity to have part-time apprenticeships? They would be what the right reverend Prelate would call “earn as you learn” apprenticeships. There may be a thousand reasons we cannot do that, but perhaps we can get together to think about what we can do. There are lots of statistics about, which make for very interesting reading, but let me share some from the Open University suggesting that,
“over the next 30 years, there will be 13 million vacancies, but only 7 million school leavers”.
This must be our call to action.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for securing this debate and declare my interest as chairman of Warwick Manufacturing Group. I agree with previous speakers that it was an honour to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, make her valedictory speech. The number of us seeking wisdom from the noble Baroness shows our real appetite for lifelong learning. Furthermore, the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, who was an outstanding Minister for Science, has demonstrated that he will be the source of much valuable perspective and sage advice in the years to come.
Speaking of sage advice, we have heard much of the skills survey. Of course, adult education is much more than skills, but that is a real issue. Indeed, one Education Minister worried that,
“our provision for Technical education lags behind that which exists in many parts of Europe”.
That was in 1935. Another Minister argued that,
“collaboration between industry and commerce and the education service”, is needed to create skills,
“adequate to the needs of the future”.
That was Rab Butler, in 1943. His vision led eventually to the industrial training boards, with levies funding vocational education for all ages. Sadly, these were abolished in the 1980s. We decoupled industry funding and vocational education, then constantly reformed the grant-funded system, going from TECs and the FEFC, through the LSC, to LEPs and the SFA.
What was the result? We have heard today that it was an ageing technical workforce, a deficit of 40,000 STEM-qualified workers each year and a declining adult skills budget destined to fall further. To be fair, the Government have found two good routes to support lifelong learning. The advanced learning loan removed financial barriers to adults studying in further education. It is a good policy and should be expanded to include all quality vocational courses and should include people in work to integrate advanced adult skills into the student loan system. Next, the apprentice levy will once again force large employers to invest in training their staff. I was a graduate apprentice. At that time, all graduates in engineering had to do a two-year apprenticeship, which was one way that companies used to train graduates.
These policies will bring vital resources to adult and vocational education, but only if companies wish to invest in external training and workers are willing to borrow to learn. Students and firms will need to be convinced that adult skills are worth the risk of time and money. We should follow Germany and give each industrial sector independent control over syllabus change, inspections and workplace training funded from the apprentice levy. A college or employer with an industry kite mark would be a recognised provider of quality vocational education.
Next, we must change the ways we teach skills to fit how companies work today. For example, at WMG we are partners with the Jaguar Land Rover Academy, which invests a more than £150 million a year on lifelong learning for every employee. Courses range from day release to full-time postgraduate degrees. They are run at different times, at varying intensities and in a wide range of locations. To make this work, at WMG we ensure all academy courses at every level are university approved, that progression between levels is seamless and that the skills offered match business needs. This is an innovative model of adult education making the boundary between work and learning permeable so that employees learn what is really useful in their career.
We all work outside our usual boundaries to create a strong partnership between FE colleges, universities and commercial training. This requires a focus on the long term and on not constantly changing funding bodies. This strategy of partnerships, quality and flexibility is essential because, as in the 1930s, our competitors are well ahead of us, because industrial partnerships are the best way to success, as Butler knew, and because, if we do not change, in 80 years we will have the same problems and similar debates.
My Lords, I was privileged to work for most of my professional career with the Open University, and I am pleased that it has been mentioned several times this afternoon, including by my noble friend Lady Williams in her valedictory address. She was Minister of State at the DES in the critical years of the Open University’s establishment in the late 1960s and Secretary of State for Education and Science during the critical years of the university’s early expansion. Her support was vital to the Open University at the time and was much appreciated. From the perspective of these Benches and of Parliament more generally, she has made a massive contribution, leading us, inspiring us and supporting us, and we thank her for that.
This is an important debate, and I thank my noble friend Lady Sharp for it. There are two areas I want to concentrate upon. The first relates to access and the importance of providers taking initiatives which reach people by other than traditional means. I shall say a word or two about union-based learning. I was involved in setting up a pilot project some years ago called Bridges to Learning. It was an Open University national partnership with the Workers’ Educational Association and Unison. This partnership is still going strong. It now receives funding from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and provides a strong focus on widening participation in work-based learning through the peer support provided by union learning representatives in the workplace. It is to be commended on its achievements over the last 15 years, since it has helped many low-paid workers back into learning and on to personal progression routes into further and higher education.
One important strand of this funded work has been the delivery of functional skills through numeracy and literacy workshops in local NHS trusts to enable employees to acquire entry qualifications for pre-registration nursing. Building on this regional success and in partnership with the Open University, the WEA nationally has recently developed a healthcare contextualised maths programme at QCA level 2, accredited by City and Guilds, which meets the numeracy entry requirement to nursing. It is delivered in the workplace through a 15-week course taught by the WEA and is organised and promoted by UNISON and its union learning representatives, who are seconded to work with Bridges to Learning. It is clear evidence of the value of partnership working which adds value; the sum is greater than the parts. It understands also that building confidence matters, of individuals who might otherwise not engage with education at all. Those who want to study but who are uncertain need the confidence and support given by a face-to-face adviser, not just a telephone link. It is very important that providers understand that that confidence-building matters as regards face-to-face meetings.
The second area relates to what the Government might do to reverse the decline in numbers of adults participating. Figures have already been quoted, which I will not repeat, but perhaps the Government might consider three initiatives. The first is personal career accounts, match-funded by public funding—very much along the line of the Help to Buy ISA schemes. Secondly, the scope of apprenticeship levy funding could be broadened to include part-time higher education, which would give greater flexibility to employers and give more options to individuals. Thirdly, will the Government ensure that in all their thinking they include part-time study for mature students as part of the solution and do not just think about younger students?
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for securing this debate. She and other speakers have demonstrated much wisdom and expertise. The speeches of course included the excellent valedictory speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her personal kindness to me over the years.
Education should be a lifelong pursuit. It is a journey, not a destination. Some years ago, I was walking down Kennington Road. A middle-aged man was coming in the opposite direction, smiling at me. He started laughing and pointed to me, saying, “George Clooney!”. I have been called many things in my life, but never that. Seeing how bemused I was, he said, “It's John Taylor, isn’t it? About 20 years ago you were my land law lecturer. It’s a dry subject, so instead of saying, ‘A sold 50 hectares to B’, you would give all the buyers and sellers Hollywood film star names. So George Clooney would sell his mansion to Bette Midler, who in turn sublet to Kim Basinger. It made the subject more fun and memorable”. He then got to his point. He explained how after several years in a factory he had made the leap of faith and furthered his education to eventually qualify as a legal executive. We shook hands and went on our way.
There is a vital link between education, including further and higher education, and the nation’s skill base and economy. In the UK we know we have a skills shortage, especially in engineering and science and at technician level. The CBI reported recently that nearly 60% of employers are concerned that their business will suffer because they cannot recruit enough people with sufficient skills.
Apprenticeships are certainly a way forward, but only about 6% of school leavers go into apprenticeships. The value of apprenticeships was valued as long ago as biblical times. Following ancient traditions, Jesus of Nazareth became an apprentice to his father Joseph as a trainee carpenter at the age of 12. He completed his apprenticeship, then worked as a master craftsman for nearly 20 years before starting his ministry.
Moving to modern times, I welcome the Government’s commitment to create 3 million new apprenticeships in England. Apprenticeships offer young people a route into the world of work, valuable experience and vital skills. However, I would like to see more opportunities for those in their later years to become apprentices, a point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.
Diversity in education is an important issue. In the UK, unemployment in the black community is on average twice what it is in the mainstream. When I was first appointed chancellor of Bournemouth University in 2001, the majority of its students were from the white community. Now, about 4,000 of its 18,000 students are from BME backgrounds. But looking at university figures as a whole, only about 1.5% of university students are from the UK black community. As your Lordships know, the famous film star, Idris Elba, spoke in Parliament last week. It is sad that, as a black actor, Mr Elba felt that he needed to move to America to advance his career.
We have to look at more creative ways of educating and improving the skills of harder-to-reach communities. I welcome the Government’s commitment to double the proportion of people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education and to increase the number of BME students going to university by 20% by 2020. At my grammar school, I was considered bright but was told many times, “You shouldn’t expect to aspire to the higher echelons of society because black people just don’t do that kind of thing”.
For many young people sport, music and fashion are big influences on their lives and are levers to be used to inspire young people to pursue further education. Taking the example of sport, partnerships between soccer clubs and further education colleges are now on the increase.
It was Thomas Edison who said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. The road to education and skills is always under construction but it is a lifelong, rewarding journey.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, so eloquently explained, there is a growing national need for flexible part-time education for young people seeking to qualify for gainful employment, for those in later life wishing to update their skills and for those in the third age simply wishing to follow intellectual interests.
There has been a huge expansion in higher education since the student days of most of us in this House. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, for his strong commitment to this when he was the responsible Minister. However, this welcome development had two downsides. First, it led to a lack of focus on apprenticeships and further education, now, gratifyingly, being reversed. Secondly, a degree became a prerequisite for many jobs for which it was not needed in the past, and that impeded social mobility. Young people who have been disadvantaged or unlucky in their schooling will not have a fair chance of university access at age 18, even if they have great potential. Worse still, they generally have no second chance.
Universities can ameliorate this problem. For instance, our most selective universities could earmark some proportion of places for students who do not enter straight from school but have gained “credit” through study at another institution or through part-time or online study. Indeed, there is a general need for more diversification among universities. Degree-level competence need not be achieved by continuous study in the traditional residential university. Moreover, there is nothing magic about that level. “Credits”, even if they are not sufficient for graduation, are worth while in themselves, and should be formalised into a system that more readily allows transfer between institutions and between part-time and full-time study. Indeed, many speakers have echoed the concern about the decline in part-time enrolments.
The Open University model, extolled by so many speakers, has vastly more potential in the era of the internet and the smartphone than when it was founded. We can all freely access wonderful material on the OpenLearn website, prepared jointly by the OU and the BBC, two institutions with a global reach.
The OU is surely ideally placed to take a lead in the worldwide dissemination of MOOCs. Top universities in the US are developing these, and all UK academics should surely seize similar opportunities to widen their impact. But rather than getting locked in to an American platform, like EdX or Coursera, they should contribute content to the Open University and support the further development of its FutureLearn platform. In most higher and further education contexts, MOOCs are, at best, supplementary, blending in to what is already on offer. But they are a genuine stand-alone option for mature and motivated students studying part time at home, whether seeking vocational qualifications or studying for its own sake.
Another benign spin-off from the internet is the democratisation of research, as well as of learning. Many archives are now available on the web, which is a huge boon to researchers and scholars around the world. For example, amateurs are now studying ships’ log-books from the 18th and 19th centuries; these are a fascinating social history, as well as containing important historical data for climate science. The involvement of amateurs has been traditional in some sciences, such as botany, but the scope for citizen scientists is now far wider. In my subject of astronomy, there are so many data that the professionals cannot scrutinise them fully. It is now possible, and it has been done, for eagle-eyed amateurs to access these data sets and themselves discover new planets.
So there are huge opportunities, but to exploit them for maximum benefit our system needs a more diverse ecology—a blurring between higher and further education, between full-time and part-time, and between residential and online. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, so eloquently told us, we should cherish the Open University and the BBC for their leadership and pioneering role in this. With such an ecology, we can exploit the benefits of the internet, offer a better second chance to young people who have been unlucky in their earlier education, and promote lifelong learning for us all.
My Lords, I start by paying tribute to my close and very dear friend the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. Who can find words powerful, poetic and complex enough to encapsulate the greatness that is Shirley Williams? No tongue is sufficiently silvered and no verbal palette is rich enough to do justice to this incredible woman. She has had an incredible impact on our political world and has been a great public servant. Her brilliance, her extraordinary eloquence, her compassion and her strong moral values have made her a lodestar in politics and beyond. She has been a role model, as the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, said, to many of us, but particularly to women. I hope the noble Baroness knows, as she leaves this House, how much of a heroine she is. Her wisdom will be sorely missed in this House, but I join others in wishing her happiness in the next stage of her extraordinary life.
I also want to welcome to the House the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, and I see that he is sitting there in the distance. He, too, is a friend, and a committed champion of educational opportunities and science. He has been a passionate voice and I have always valued his support for further education and its purposes. He is undoubtedly going to make a great contribution to this House.
Then, to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who introduced this debate. I thank her too. She has been loyal and stalwart on behalf of further education.
In 1997 I published a report for the Further Education Funding Council called Learning Works. I know the Minister has been urged to read all manner of reports and I, too, urge this one on him. I invite him to take it off the shelf and dust it down because it describes very well the incredible remit of the further education sector. As well as paying tribute to those who work in the sector and as a paean to it, it reminds us all of what a Cinderella this sector is in the world of education. It has been always the third in line. When Tony Blair, as Prime Minister, said that it was going to be “Education. Education. Education”, we knew what the third education was likely to be in that list. I am afraid that continues to be the case.
I fear for further education because it is still being neglected—it is poorly funded and never given the esteem it deserves—and yet it is so fundamental to the well-being of this nation and the opportunities it provides for so many. Indeed, it could provide so much more in the future. It is a source of regret to me that we are not doing enough with this precious part of our educational world.
I spoke in this House only a few days ago about the way further education provides not only opportunities for the learning of trades, technical skills and so on, but second chances for people who have often missed out. We know the reasons why. I described the young women who often start a family too soon and therefore have to pull out of their education; the young men who have become disenchanted with school; and the young people who are brought up in families who say that education is not for the likes of them. Finding their way back in to learning is hard for some people, and further education is the place where it is possible.
However, because of their loss of confidence when schooling did not work for them, it is sometimes hard to take that step.
When I was producing the report I often heard people whose communities had been destroyed because of the end of some of the great old industries say, “You cannot teach old dogs new tricks”, and yet we can help people to find their way back in. Further education plays an important role in literacy and in helping people to learn that great business of knowing how to learn, how to use new technologies in creative ways and how to become employable.
When we were doing that work we learned that one of the important things is to take learning to the learners. Sometimes, people were too frightened even to go into a further education college to find out what was possible. In fact, learning could take place in community centres; in school playgrounds with portacabins, with a few computers to show them how to start; in billiard halls and hairdressing salons. Literacy for new arrivals in our communities was often taking place in rooms above pubs and so on. It was the first step back into this world and the ways in which people learn the English language. We have heard much discussion in the House today about the importance of women in minority communities having the opportunity to learn our language in order to support their children. Many want to learn for those purposes.
This debate is important, and not only because education has to be at the heart of any inspired project for regeneration. There is no doubt that education is one of the best springboards for the revitalisation of our economy, but it is about more than the economy. The economic rationale for expanding education participation and providing quality skills and so on is a great reason, but it is not the only one. Prosperity depends also upon there being justice and equity in our society, but we are seeing greater divisions between rich and poor. It is that landscape that I want us to think about: the growing gulf between those who have and those who have not, the lack of social cohesion and the ways in which educational opportunities can fill the gap.
I urge the Government to think about putting resource into this precious sector and to consider some of the inventive and creative possibilities that were set out in my report, such as learning accounts and credit transfer, which make it possible to start again.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness and I echo in particular her comments about the need for more second chances. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Sharp on a wide-ranging and challenging opening speech. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, on his excellent maiden speech, and say that we will be looking at his clothing very carefully in the future.
I particularly want to congratulate my noble friend Lady Williams on her valedictory speech. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, who is also a former Education Secretary, sadly cannot be in her place today but has asked me to pass on her tribute to the contribution made by my noble friend to public and political life. She notes that laying the foundations for comprehensive secondary education is a testimony to my noble friend’s commitment to opportunity for all young people. She also asked me to say that my noble friend was “one of those who confirmed my belief that politics is a force for good and a place for women”. Judging by the warm reception that my noble friend was given by shoppers in Bath when campaigning there during the last election, it is clear that she is one of a rare breed: a universally popular politician. She has done much to change the landscape of British politics and her contribution to education is immense. She will be missed in your Lordships’ House.
My noble friend understands the personal, social and economic benefit of high-quality education and training, sharing the view of H G Wells that:
“Civilisation is in a race between education and catastrophe”.
We cannot be complacent that we are winning the race. We lag behind our competitor countries in skills. Some 8 million British adults lack functional numeracy skills and 5 million lack literacy skills. We have productivity below the G7 average and we know that only by addressing the skills challenge will we turn this around. And while today we are debating adult education, training and lifelong learning, we should not forget that success in these depends on high-quality education in our schools, especially in the early years, and in particular on giving vocational education parity of esteem with academic education. While we debate the ways to upskill the population, we need also to tackle the skills mismatch. It is estimated that nearly half of employers have staff with skills and qualifications beyond those required to do their jobs, leading to demoralisation and reduced productivity. Tackling that requires in part high-quality careers advice and information.
We do have a long-standing adult education pedigree and we recognise the important impact it has on social well-being, the development of communities and the growth of businesses, but there is a mismatch between the rhetoric and the reality as government support for lifelong learning and the funding of adult education has continued to reduce. Cuts were made under the Labour Government and there were further cuts under the coalition. Fortunately, despite those ongoing reductions, our network of further education colleges and community learning providers has found creative ways to continue to offer their communities and businesses opportunities for learning, training and development. Bath College, for example, through its excellent Love2Learn programme, provides adults with affordable courses and programmes in 300 different subjects and makes creative use of the funding available to ensure that the most vulnerable in the community do not lose out.
I am pleased that the Government have recognised the need to stabilise the budget and welcome the approaches taken to the newly named adult education budget, alongside the reforms to the funding of apprenticeships. Apprenticeships were a major achievement of the coalition Government which is already paying dividends, and I welcome the planned expansion. As MP for Bath, I was pleased to have helped Bath College and employers achieve a growth of 117% in the number of apprenticeships in the city.
Seeing world-beating companies like Rotork plc use the apprenticeship programme to identify and develop its future engineers and managers was simply stunning.
As we have already heard, the digital economy is now 10% of the total economy and it is good to see successful apprenticeships in this area. For example, in addition to its 40-year collaboration with the Open University and its Make It Digital traineeships for 5,000 young employed people, the BBC is providing apprenticeship schemes in local radio, digital journalism and degree-level engineering. UK Music, supported by the creative employment programme, runs a successful music apprenticeship scheme. I welcome the Government’s continued development of apprenticeships for those reasons.
However, college leaders are beginning to talk about confusion and uncertainty. I therefore urge the Government to avoid over-complex, burdensome measures, so that the needs of apprentices and their employers are put first. It is local people who know what is best for meeting their local skills needs. Colleges, councils, LEPs and universities, many of which now operate in collaborative partnerships, are best placed to design and shape their adult education and skills systems. That is why devolution of some aspects of the adult education budget is broadly welcome. The notion of the local outcome agreement featuring in many of the devolution submissions really is a way forward to ensure local systems are being designed for local people and businesses.
I have one final plea: that we should give localities the autonomy to deliver on these without further central interference. For far too long there has been too much interference and too many changes. Now let us give the system a chance to rebuild a world-beating skills system which will strengthen the United Kingdom economy.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Sharp on securing this important debate. She has long been a champion of adult education and has great expertise in the subject, as we heard in her impressive opening speech. We have seen how widespread is the interest that it has generated, with the many excellent contributions from around the House. I am also delighted to join in the tributes to my wonderful noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby, whose valedictory speech has reminded us of how much the House will be losing without her eloquent and perceptive contributions. She has been a key player on the political stage for very many years and combines a formidable intellect and energy with disarming warmth and friendliness. I add my thanks for all that she has done in public life and wish her a long, happy and active retirement from the House, and success in the EU referendum campaign. I also welcome the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. I was a coalition government Whip and Minister for higher education in this House when he was the Minister and I have great respect for all he achieved in that post. We shall look forward to hearing more from him in the coming months.
I have been convinced of the value of adult education since being roped in to take a college evening class in French many years ago. My noble friend Lady Sharp spoke of those classes and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, apparently benefited from them, although not with me as a teacher I hesitate to add. It was so different from schoolteaching. There were absolutely no discipline problems for a start because people were engaged and enthused by learning. Some were there to get a qualification to improve their employability. Others were there for the sense of achievement and enjoyment from learning something new.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, might almost have quoted Adam Smith, who allegedly said that every man is a student all his life and longer too. Obviously, he was not politically correct because every woman is a student all her life too. It is well proven that learning as an adult, including non-accredited learning, brings benefits such as better health and well-being, greater social engagement and increased confidence, as well as better employability and benefits to family and community life.
When I worked for City & Guilds, a vocational awarding body which predominantly accredits adult competence, I came across candidates learning elementary work skills, working their way up the ladder to the highest levels of skill and professional expertise. Many are retraining and reskilling to meet the changing needs of the workforce and to keep up with technology. This was outlined in the Digital Skills Committee, on which the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and I served. It certainly included the creative industries mentioned by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, of which he and my noble friend Lord Foster have been such eloquent supporters. It certainly needs to include those with learning disabilities, as championed by my noble friend Lord Addington.
City & Guilds owes its origins to this country’s long and proud tradition of adult education and training, which from medieval days was provided by City livery companies. They were set up to promote their trade and train young and old with the relevant skills and knowledge to ensure continuity. I noted with some concern the adverse comments in a debate on
We need a multifaceted approach if the country is to meet its goal to become more highly skilled, as set out in the Government’s productivity plan. Large numbers of adults will require reskilling, education or training. There are simply not enough young people entering the workforce, and many, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby said, are in need of preparation for the world of work. This is the field in which the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, has done such pioneering work. We have been reminded that, over the next 30 years, there will be 13 million vacancies but only 7 million school leavers.
For adult learners, part-time further and higher education is essential in delivering flexible learning for people who have other professional and personal calls on their adult lives. We heard about this from the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern. I join the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, and my noble friend Lord Shipley in tributes to the WEA, and it was good to hear from a real-life apprentice, in the form of the noble Lord, Lord Bhattacharyya. Yet, part-time learners have been heavily hit in changes to funding, and colleges have struggled to keep up staffing numbers and the wide range of courses that they are expected to provide. While the November spending review contained some welcome measures to reflect the specific needs of part-time students, the momentum must be maintained if we are to see a reverse in the very significant fall in part-time numbers.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, wrote a seminal report on further education, as she reminded us, pointing out that these colleges are essential to progress. My noble friend Lord Cotter and others have already mentioned the importance of FE. We received valuable briefings for this debate from the AOC, the Open University, Birkbeck College—of which the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, is president—the new Learning and Work Institute, the University and College Union and many others to add to the comprehensive pack provided by the Library. All indicate the importance of adult education to individuals and to the economy, and the importance of second chances. They express concerns over funding, adequate teachers and continuity of government policy to enable real progress to be made.
What support can the Government offer? Changes to loans are most welcome, but will not replace the severe hits colleges have taken, with increasing demands and dwindling funds. This is not a sustainable position. As mentioned by my noble friend Lady Sharp and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, one measure would be to look again at funding for equivalent or lower-level qualifications. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, and the noble Lord, Lord Rees, will be very pleased that exemptions were made for science, technology, engineering and maths students—not astronomy, though; perhaps that is to come later—in the spending review in November 2015. Will the Minister say what other subjects might be made exempt to meet shortages in the workforce?
What about the Government’s commitment to the provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages? We heard a lot about this in the debate immediately prior to this one. Last year, changes to funding eligibility for English for Speakers of Other Languages contributed to some 2,000 fewer women attending ESOL classes than before, as well as some 16,000 people who lost the opportunity to learn English, as directed through Jobcentre Plus. This particularly affected FE colleges, the main providers of ESOL, with 73% of ESOL students studying at a college. Although David Cameron has since pledged an additional £20 million for ESOL, targeted at Muslim women, the latest funding announcement does not make up for the 50%—£160 million—reduction in the funds available for teaching English courses between 2008 and 2015. Will the Minister say what guarantees there are for continuity in ESOL funding? One of the greatest barriers to this sort of learning is constant changes and reversals in government policy, which is certainly no help to all those attempting to provide these services. Investing in high-quality technical and vocational education, starting in school and continuing through further education, higher education and lifelong learning, is vital to providing long-term career prospects and for creating a more productive workforce.
We have heard some very strong messages coming through today. I urge the Minister to listen to the key players, the practitioners, the people at the sharp end who will be making adult education and lifelong learning accessible and encouraging. Their voices need to be heard. They deserve more generous and more reliable funding to fulfil the needs and expectations of individuals and of the country.
This has been a stimulating and wide-ranging debate. I look forward very much to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, it is a privilege to have been in the Chamber for the valedictory speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. Many noble Lords have said that it was an exceptional speech. I do not accept that, because I have heard her speak many times and she always delivers exceptional speeches. This evening I certainly feel regretful that that will be the last time I hear her. I have been in your Lordships’ House for almost 20 years now. Over that period there have been probably a handful of people to whom, if I see their name on the monitor, I will go to hear them speak, irrespective of the subject, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has been one of those.
When I joined the Labour Party she was Secretary of State for Education—our Secretary of State, of course. Not long after that she parted company with the party, and I hold my hands up to say that possibly I was a contributor to the reason for that parting of the ways. Such is politics. But I know that in her time as Secretary of State for Education she introduced far-reaching reforms in schools that have since benefited millions of people, who will be forever grateful for her efforts. I wish her a long and happy retirement outwith this House. We will not see her like again.
At the other end of the spectrum, I enjoyed the speech that the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, delivered with such panache, drawing on some of his recent experience as a government Minister in this field. Along with colleagues on these Benches, I look forward to his contributions in the future. We are aware that we will have to be on form to make sure that we counter his arguments.
I have been heartened throughout this debate by the number of occasions on which the Workers’ Educational Association has been mentioned. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who deserves credit not just for introducing the debate but for the comprehensive and compelling manner with which she did so, touched on that as one of the aspects of adult and continuing education. I was particularly taken by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, about RH Tawney, who is a hero of mine as well. I would not go as far as he has, though, and dress in tribute to him with his tweed jacket. I do wear a tweed jacket, but only when I am wearing a kilt.
I began my working life at the WEA. My first job after leaving university was as a tutor/organiser in the 1970s. Like my noble friend Lord Hunt and others, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, I visited small towns and villages to interact with people who had returned to education, in many cases after a lengthy absence, and were determined to begin a new phase in their lives. That may have meant seeking a new direction in terms of employment, or simply an extension of knowledge to use for their personal benefit or the benefit of their family or community. That was another point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.
Whatever the reason, often that first step into adult education was the most difficult one. For more than a century, the WEA has opened doors for millions of people. En passant, the fine traditions of the WEA, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, said, have indeed fed into the literary festivals that have developed. I would add to that the book clubs, which are a reflection of the willingness of people to get together and have cultural exchanges in a relatively informal manner, which can only be welcomed.
Of course, the WEA continues to open its door to many people. Four months ago the organisation published the results of a survey of their students. It was entitled Changing Lives and revealed the extent to which adult learning impacts on so many areas of an individual’s life. That survey found that more than half of those aged under 60 gave improving communication skills as a specific skill developed on a WEA course. Tellingly, four months after completing the course, almost one in four reported having found employment. In addition to the impact on students’ civic engagement, a quarter reported a significant impact on their role as parents, with a quarter stating that they felt more confident about helping their children with reading, writing and maths. Thus the benefits of adult education to the next generation will begin to take root.
A report by BIS published in 2011 concluded that,
“informal adult learning contributes to other Government policies by improving health and wellbeing”— especially that of older people, and their ability to access digital technologies—
“cultural development and active citizenship, all of which can potentially decrease the burden on public finances”.
Although I would never characterise spending on these important areas as a burden on public finances, I welcome the official recognition given to the very real benefits that flow from adult education. However, I have to say that the years since have not lived up to that hype, with little to suggest that BIS or, indeed, the Government, really do value adult learning’s contribution to the growth of the economy.
I will not repeat the figures that many noble Lords have mentioned in their contributions. None the less, it has to be said that the amount of resources that the Government are willing to commit have to have an effect on the number of people who can get involved in adult and continuing learning, and therefore the consequent benefits that will flow to the economy.
The Association of Colleges illustrated to noble Lords in its briefing for this debate that the adult skills budget is to be renamed the adult education budget this year, but that is at the same time as funding is being shifted from adult education to apprenticeships. The levy on employers has the aim of increasing the quantity and quality of apprenticeship training. That was one of the issues discussed when your Lordships debated apprenticeships three months ago. There is a real fear that some employers will offer only the lower-end apprenticeships and may even use the people filling them to replace existing staff. However, why should all of the burden fall on employers? The whole country will benefit from a better trained and skilled workforce, so the Government should be prepared to provide additional funding to ensure more apprenticeships are at the higher level. Of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, said, apprenticeships are available only to people in full-time work, so those who are unemployed or are working part time are excluded. Their opportunities for retraining are becoming increasingly limited and there is a clear need to widen the focus from apprenticeships to other forms of upskilling and, indeed, reskilling.
The situation in higher education is every bit as alarming. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, said—and, indeed, proceeded to validate—we should not assume that the young will learn more effectively than older people. Anyone who does that does so at their peril. No matter the stage they are at in their adult lives, part-time higher education is essential in delivering flexible learning for people. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and others have said, the Open University is one of our great institutions. The OU in its briefing for this debate highlighted that part-time higher education is a cost-effective way of raising skills levels and training so that students can earn and learn. That represents 75% of Open University students.
The benefits of new skills are felt immediately by both individuals and employers. The November spending review contained some welcome measures in this regard, including extending loans for equivalent or lower qualifications for all STEM subjects to reflect the specific needs of part-time students, but it did not contain the measures necessary to halt, far less reverse, the significant fall in part-time numbers in recent years. I have to say that the signs are that decline could continue for several years into the future, with the biggest falls seen in those studying for foundation degrees, where the number of part-time students has collapsed by nearly 50% since 2011. What do the Government propose to do about that? That is a very serious statistic to deal with because foundation degrees are, of course, the way in which doors to higher education are often opened.
“If sustained action is not taken now, it may be too late to reverse the trend. This will mean many talented people who missed out on the traditional route into full-time study aged 18 find their route to a second chance at study cut off”.
Even if she does not listen to me, I suggest that that is surely a voice she should listen to. BIS has announced that part-time students will become eligible for maintenance loans in the academic year 2018-19 but, as my noble friend Lady Bakewell asked, why the delay? The problem is deep and deepening and needs to be addressed now, not three years down the line. I hope that the Minister will have an answer on that point because the Government seem to have little sense of the urgency required by current trends. Although part-time students may be in some form of paid employment, they still require maintenance support because part-time work rarely provides enough to live on.
It is easy—indeed, I suppose it is expected—for the opposition Front Bench simply to live up to our name and, to some extent, I suppose that is what I have done although not, I hope, gratuitously. There is support for the view that the contribution being made to the economy by adult and continuing education and the wider skills sector is lacking in many aspects and, in that sense, the country is being sold short. I cite the support that came in the form of a report published today by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, a BIS-supported quango. It announced the outcome of its research on the GOV.UK website this morning under the headline:
“Employers facing talent poverty as skills shortages rise 130% in four years”.
The figures in the report show that so-called “skills shortage vacancies” now make up nearly a quarter of all job openings and the concern of the business community is clear, with evidence that employers cannot find people with the skills or knowledge to fill those openings.
I am sure that the Minister will outline her understanding of the report and what the Government intend to do as a result. I would suggest that they have not been doing enough up to this point. People in and seeking work deserve more support in their efforts, and the resources to allow them to achieve their aims must be made available for the benefit of us all.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for initiating this important debate and to all noble Lords for their contributions. It has been a wide-ranging and typically expert discussion that has provided much food for thought. I would particularly like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Willetts on his excellent maiden speech. As he said, I first met him as a bright-eyed 18 year-old when I worked in his parliamentary office during my gap year. Despite his calm words, I think it is fair to say that neither of us would have predicted that one day I would be congratulating him in your Lordships’ House from the Dispatch Box, but I am delighted to do so.
It has also been an honour to hear the valedictory speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. She has been a towering figure in UK politics since she first won her parliamentary seat in 1964. I am afraid that I was not around then to appreciate it. Since then, she has held a number of ministerial offices and among her many achievements she piloted through Parliament the legislation that ended capital punishment. It is fitting that her speech today has come 35 years after the Limehouse declaration and perhaps one of the boldest moves that you can make in politics—the launching of a new party. As noble Lords have said, her passion for education and as a strong advocate for women in politics are well known and her contributions be will be missed by all of us in this House. I would like to join everyone in wishing her the very best for the future.
Adult education and skills is a devolved matter, so this afternoon I will speak specifically on adult education in England. The UK economy is growing and, as a result, our employment picture is brighter, with more people in work than before. A record 74% of people in the UK are currently employed—more than 2 million more than in 2010. With employers growing in confidence and businesses looking to expand, the demand for skilled people is increasing. Of course, skills are one of the major drivers of productivity growth. Increasing workers’ skills makes them more productive and supplies businesses with the talent that they need. There are, of course, also broader benefits for communities in supporting those adults who are disadvantaged, unemployed and low-skilled to develop and progress, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, highlighted.
However, the UK has fallen behind international standards for too long. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, mentioned some figures, and we have some unacceptable gaps in basic and high-level technical skills that are needed for our economy. A recent report published by the OECD found that an estimated 9 million adults in England have poor basic skills and that less than 10% of young people in learning undertake vocational education or training in the UK compared to a third or more of young people elsewhere. This must change and the Government are committed to major improvements in adult education to meet the needs of the economy.
Many noble Lords today have rightly expressed concerns about, and made the case for, investing properly in the skills that our country will need in the future. This is a responsibility shared between employers, individual citizens and government and the picture for this Parliament is positive in these respects. Through the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, spending on apprenticeships will reach £2.5 billion in 2019-20—twice the cash amount spent on apprenticeships at the beginning of the last Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked how the levy will impact smaller employers. Employers with a pay bill of less than £3 million will not pay the levy. That is equivalent to about 98% of employers. However, all employers will have access, whether they have paid into the levy or not. They will be free to spend money on the apprenticeship training which they judge best meets their needs. Employers that pay into the levy will be able to get more out of it than they put in by investing in apprenticeships.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked whether the levy could be broadened to cover HE. The levy will be able to be used for apprenticeship training such as degree apprenticeships under the new standards. We are also expanding the advanced learner loans programme to ensure that people can take high-level technical and professional courses to develop their career prospects and meet our future skills needs. Of course, there is no age limit on these loans. Previously, there was no source of funding to help learners meet the costs of vocational courses at the levels equivalent to university degrees. We have rectified that. By the end of October 2015, there had been more than 190,000 applications. However, we want to do more, which is why we are launching a consultation on the introduction of FE maintenance loans to support higher-level technical courses at specialist providers such as national colleges.
The coalition Government had to take many hard decisions to reduce the deficit. One of them was to reduce the budget for adult skills provision other than apprenticeships quite significantly year on year. However, as my noble friend Lady Redfern said, we have been able to maintain, in cash terms, a £1.5 billion a year adult education budget across this Parliament to support learners with low levels of skills and education, and we are very pleased that we have been able to do so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, raised concerns about the funding of the provision of ESOL. The decision in July to remove the additional funding for jobseekers needed to meet the English language requirement was not taken lightly, but it was a decision that we had to take to deliver savings without compromising the stability of the FE sector. Our data showed that the numbers of jobseekers being referred to provision was significantly lower than originally envisaged, primarily as many had been successful in gaining employment. Jobseekers can continue to be referred to ESOL courses by their jobcentres, because we continue to cover the full cost of English language training for those who have been in the UK or another EEA country for at least three years, are in receipt of certain work-related benefits and need to improve their English in order to find work.
Prospects for the further education sector look a great deal brighter as a result of the overall expansion of funding represented by our reforms. I can reassure the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Cotter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, that we do value the sector and that its total spending power to support participation will be £3.4 billion in 2019-20—a real-terms increase of 30% compared to 2015-16.
As many noble Lords highlighted, adult further education has long been dominated by part-time learners, the vast majority of whom take courses in higher education. A number of noble Lords expressed concern in this debate, and in others, about the decline in numbers. It is exactly in order to address those concerns that we announced in the Autumn Statement that maintenance loans will be available for the first time for part-time study. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that we are committed to introducing these, but we need to get the details right, which is why we are launching the consultation. We welcome a wide range of views to help us work out how best we can support learners with these new loans.
Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Rees and Lord Watson, all rightly paid tribute to the many-faceted contribution that the Open University makes in adult education. It has long provided a very flexible way for adults to access learning in ways that suit them best.
It is particularly concerning when employers tell us that young adults do not have even the basic skills needed for the workplace. Through the Government’s traineeship programme we are seeking to address this by giving those who need it the skills and vital work experience needed to progress in an apprenticeship or other sustainable employment. Almost 30,000 individuals participated in traineeships in the programme’s first two years. We are also ambitious to raise adult standards of literacy and numeracy, which is why we have embedded English and maths into the heart of all our major adult education programmes and why we fully fund all adults to achieve GCSE maths and English.
High-quality apprenticeships providing training in the workplace are essential to support employers and to help our economy prosper in the years to come, which is why the Government are doubling the level of spending on apprenticeships annually and are committed to reaching 3 million apprenticeship starts in England by 2020. As noble Lords have rightly pointed out, not only is it important to increase the number of apprenticeship opportunities but they must be of high quality and deliver the skills relevant to the workplace; and, of course, the person undertaking the apprenticeship should get the opportunities they want. We will ensure that quality will not be compromised in the pursuit of quantity.
We have put in place reforms that give employers more control, with more than 1,300 employers already involved in designing apprenticeships to meet their skills needs; 198 new employer-led standards have been published so far, with many more in development. Quality will be assured on these new standards through more rigorous assessment and grading at the end of the apprenticeship. Through the apprenticeship levy, employers will become more demanding customers when seeking quality training provision in England. To further support our focus, the institute of apprenticeships will be established from April 2017. This independent, employer-led body will be responsible for setting quality criteria for standards and assessment.
My noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott asked about flexibility. She is right that, overwhelmingly, apprenticeships are full-time and should be a minimum of 30 hours a week. But in some circumstances a minimum of 16 hours can be agreed, although this will extend the duration of the apprenticeship to ensure sustained training and a quality apprenticeship, and the apprenticeship levy will be able to be used to fund this.
We are also introducing ground-breaking reforms to technical and professional education which will set England’s post-16 education system on a par with the best in the world. The reforms focus on simplifying the currently overly complex post-16 education system to create new technical and professional routes from school to employment, and the highest levels of technical competency. We want to create a system which is genuinely owned, understood and valued by employers, which will help young people make informed choices about the different types of study and the opportunities these bring and which will better integrate classroom-based training and employment-based training such as apprenticeships.
The creation of a new network of specialist training providers—including national colleges and institutes of technology, the growth of degree apprenticeships, which I have previously mentioned and which are widening access to the professions, including automotive, banking, chartered surveying, aerospace and nuclear, and the expansion of loans to help more adults take a qualification in FE—will all help address technical skills gaps and shortages in sectors that are critical to the economy, and support the delivery of major infrastructure programmes.
The noble Lords, Lord Aberdare and Lord Clement-Jones, raised the issue of digital skills. As the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said, the Government will be publishing a strategy later this year, as we all agree about the importance of the UK remaining a world leader in this area. Alongside the new computing curriculum in schools, new programmes have been designed to strengthen the country’s digital capacity through new high-quality skills provision; for instance, employers have designed or are designing 19 apprenticeship standards, and a new digital skills college will be opening in September 2016 to address gaps in this area.
The importance of lifelong learning for the economy should not be underestimated as it improves the life chances of people who are low skilled and socially or economically disadvantaged, which in turn supports the country’s growth and productivity, as well as their contribution to their local communities and their health. By working with employers and local services, such as health, schools, social housing and Jobcentre Plus, in deprived areas we can improve individuals’ job prospects.
Birmingham provides a good example. Its adult education service used BIS community learning funding to work with Jobcentre Plus, Carillion, Capita, Tesco and Morrisons, helping more than 500 unemployed people, many with disabilities and chronic health problems, into sustainable employment. In addition, more than 80 employers were trained in mentoring so that they could actively support employees from long-term workless backgrounds. We are supporting disadvantaged families through family learning courses, which help build parents’ own confidence and skills as they learn alongside their children, improving their chances of employment as well as raising their aspirations for their children.
Lifelong learning also supports the economy by upskilling older people; 2.9 million people aged between 50 and state pension age are out of work. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, said, there is no age limit on the capacity to learn. Part-time courses help older people build confidence, update their skills—including digital skills—and continue to be productive and effective in the workplace or in their community. Of course, lifelong learning has benefits for well-being, mental and physical health, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, outlined. Research shows that adult learning improves well-being and reduces depression.
Our £1.5 billion a year investment in adult education across this Parliament will support learners with low levels of skills and education. That budget, together with the separate funding that meets the needs of adults with education, health and care plans, which describe a higher level of support, explicitly provides support for learners who need additional learning support as a result of having or acquiring a learning difficulty or disability. Many voluntary organisations are doing excellent work in this field, and we continue to support the work of Disability Rights UK through our grant funding.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, raised the issue of teachers’ understanding of how to support dyslexic learners. Providers must ensure that teachers have the necessary skills to meet the needs of these learners and keep those skills up to date. There are a number of different courses available, including London Met’s postgraduate certificate in teaching adult dyslexic learners. Many teachers also benefit from a range of very helpful material produced by, among others, the British Dyslexia Association, of which the noble Lord will be well aware.
It is right that strong local areas and employers should take a lead in establishing a stronger skills system to better meet their communities’ economic needs. The noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Aberdare, talked about the advantage of local approaches and partnerships. We want to enable greater local influence over adult education so that it is better targeted and responsive to local priorities. We have already agreed ground-breaking devolution deals with Sheffield, the north-east, the Tees Valley, Liverpool and the West Midlands, and we expect more to follow. Our locally led area reviews are also making sure that further education becomes more efficient, financially resilient and locally responsive to the needs of learners and employers to deliver the skills required to grow local economies.
I thank noble Lords once again for their contributions to this debate. They have shown that adult education and lifelong learning have a vital role in strengthening the UK’s economy. The Government recognise that there is more to be done to ensure that the UK has the skills and flexibility it needs to grow in the global economy and that all people in this country have the skills they need to do what they would like to in life. Only through investment in high-quality vocational education that is truly responsive to employers, individuals and local needs will we secure future productivity and growth.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in what I think has been an extremely good debate. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, for an extremely stimulating maiden speech and, even more so, my noble friend Lady Williams for a really memorable valedictory speech, which many of us will go away remembering for many a long year.
Adult education and lifelong learning is a very wide-ranging subject, and we have touched on a very large number of issues during the debate. We have gone from basic skills and ESOL through to digital skills. We have looked at growing confidence on the one hand to neurological pathways on the other. I, for one, am reassured by the fact that the noble Baroness,
Lady Greenfield, told us that as we grow older our learning capacities need not get worse—sometimes I am not sure about that. In all, it has been an extremely stimulating debate. Looking at the wide-ranging facets of this subject has been extremely useful, as has having different people being able to talk about different subjects.
The Minister, whom I thank for an extremely comprehensive response to the debate, is very optimistic; some people are more optimistic than others about the future of this area. I hope that the Minister is right to be as optimistic as she is because, as she says, this area of our educational system is vital to the strength of our economy in the future. Once again, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to such a good debate.