9. Further Work
9.1 Much good work is already being done or is under construction to encourage learning at, for or through employment. However, provision of learning opportunities at work remains very patchy and still skewed largely towards those who are already learners, have achieved through learning or have qualifications to their names.(31) This is especially true for those working in small and tiny businesses, including those who are owner-managers and entrepreneurs. Their needs are diverse yet much provision is not yet aimed at meeting them nor is it geared to the different rhythms and exigencies of their businesses.
9.2 We regard this whole question of developing practical ways of stimulating workplace learning, especially in small and tiny enterprises, as a key element of the lifelong learning agenda. Urgent and imaginative action is required to help those working in small firms get into the learning age. It would be useful for the University for Industry to support a range of pilot 'demonstration projects', designed to explore ways in which small businesses could collaborate amongst themselves and with providers in securing access to learning for their proprietors and staff. This should include ways of stimulating their better use of communications and information technology to support learning.(32)
9.3 The involvement and commitment of employers - of all shapes and sizes and in all sectors - is essential to the successful development of a culture of lifelong learning. More work should be undertaken, in conjunction with representatives from business and unions, the National Training Organisations and TECs on the development of existing mechanisms for change, including modifications to the Investors in People standard, and the use of grants, incentives and rewards to promote learning at work. Consideration should also be given to the development of a jointly agreed Code of Good Practice to support workplace learning.
31 On this whole topic, see our earlier task group report on workplace learning.
32 See also Changing Technologies: Changing Learners. op.cit.
Support for Part-time Study
9.4 We have already welcomed the Government's positive decisions to extend loan facilities to certain part-time students in higher education. This is a valuable step forward. However, as patterns of study increasingly change and modes of attendance vary, the clear distinction between 'full-time' and 'part-time' learners is bound to become progressively blurred. Very few students on full-time programmes of study make no contribution to the costs of their learning from their own earnings. Many already engage in learning through a mixture of modes. Even with the recent welcome changes in policy, there is still systematically less support for those studying part-time than for those on full-time programmes. This is especially true of access to loans and, for those in work, threshold income levels at which fees have to be paid.
9.5 We have already welcomed recent policy changes to enable fees to be waived for certain students on benefit. We also recognise that questions of cost and equity need to be given the fullest consideration. Forward thinking needs now to consider the next steps in supporting all learners as part of the campaign to create learning cultures, how to move towards equitable arrangements and make use of exciting new initiatives such as Individual Learning Accounts in that process.
9.6 We welcome the clarification of the Further Education Funding Council's role in being able to support non-credit bearing programmes of study and so-called 'non-schedule 2' educational activity. We are also pleased to note moves to audit local authority provision and to provide more funding for such work. Developments under each of those headings should be closely monitored and reviewed.
9.7 At the same time, we are concerned at evidence which suggests that there has been some decline in the provision of liberal adult education, including at university level. There needs to be a better understanding of its potential contribution to the development of learning cultures, building confidence and self-esteem, including opening up pathways to more formal kinds of learning, including qualification. There also needs to be a greater understanding of the ways in which learning can contribute effectively to people's leisure, recreation, identity, independence and patterns of consumption.
9.8 More light needs to be cast on the ways in which non-accredited pathways can lead on to qualification routes and how best to fund and provide these. Moreover, there is still insufficient systematic evidence and inadequate frameworks of evaluation to assess the wider contribution of local authority supported programmes, of non-accredited learning generally and of liberal adult education towards the achievement of the government's wider priorities. There is a need also to measure the various returns offered by different sorts of learning. All of this requires attention and the design of appropriate and rigorous action research to develop sensitive models and to disseminate good practice.
Libraries and Museums
9.9 The potential contribution of libraries and museums to lifelong learning has already been acknowledged in the government's green paper. They can help to change cultures and become increasingly important partners in both opening up access and diversifying delivery. We believe that government should now invite representatives from these bodies to join with experts on lifelong learning to develop their own detailed strategic and operational proposals for lifelong learning. These should include, inter alia, questions of improved access, support, staff training, the use of new communications and information technology and involvement in strategic partnerships.
An Adult Credit-based Qualifications Framework
9.10 We acknowledge the difficulties of moving quickly towards comprehensive and credit-based qualifications for all post-school learning and welcome work which has already begun in this area. As a contribution to the longer-term development of a single framework and as a transitional measure, we believe it would be useful for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, working closely with the UfI and other agencies, to consider the construction of a simple, adult credit-based qualifications framework, including for basic skills. Such work should draw on the experience of Open Colleges, the Basic Skills Agency and the views of employers, professional bodies, unions and voluntary organisations which have been involved in developing NVQs, GNVQs and other qualifications and measuring competences for adults.
KR8 We recommend that further work, resulting in implementation proposals should be undertaken in the following areas:
SR19 Attention should be given to:
SR20 There should be an examination of the merits of a range of funding schemes to support different modes of learning, different sorts of learner (full-time, part-time and mixed mode) and changing patterns of learning.
SR21 Further work should be conducted on the pattern, role and contribution of non-accredited learning and liberal adult education to the achievement of the government's objectives and of the best way to provide and fund such learning.
SR22 Government should invite representatives from libraries and museums to join with experts on lifelong learning to develop their own detailed strategic and operational proposals for lifelong learning. These should include, inter alia, questions of improved access, learner support, staff training, the use of the new communications and information technology and promoting their involvement in strategic partnerships.
SR23 The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority should be asked to consider and devise an adult credit-based qualifications framework, as a transitional step towards the construction of a national framework of qualifications for all post-school learning.