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of change and development in their lives. It called for a national strategy for lifelong learning, backed by stable organisational structures and a learning-rich civil society, with national leadership combined with sufficient autonomy to support local decision-making to fit local circumstances. Such a strategy, it was argued, would help produce the sort of culture change necessary if the country was to emerge strongly from the financial crisis and meet the challenges of the future. In May 2010, Adults Learning published

one of the first interviews with new Prime Minister David Cameron, putting to him the six questions NIACE had urged members and other supporters of adult learning to put to prospective parliamentary candidates in the run-up to the general election. He told the journal:

Learning isn’t just about consuming chunks of knowledge in order to be able to do a job. It’s about broadening the mind, giving people self-belief, strengthening the bonds of community ... It’s that self-belief that leads people to become more active citizens. Given that my vision for this country is for all of us to get involved and play our part in national renewal, I believe adult learning and the way it inspires people is crucially important.

The interview was later quoted in Parliament by new Minister of State for Further Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills John Hayes, in answer to a question on adult and community learning:

My strong commitment to adult and community learning is well known. It is shared by my Secretary of State and the Prime Minster, who, in a recent interview with Adults Learning, made clear his belief that learning is ‘about broadening the mind, giving people self-belief, strengthening the bonds of community’. That is why in 2010–11 we are developing a skills strategy with increasing importance placed on those with disabilities, learning difficulties and disadvantaged families and comm- unities, spending £210 million in that year alone ... Lifelong learning feeds hope – builds and rebuilds lives by seeding a hunger for knowledge. It shapes people, families and comm- unities and feeds social justice.

Hayes gave his first speech in office at NIACE’s policy conference in May 2010. He told delegates that adult education ‘brings hope and the promise of a better society founded on social mobility, social justice and social cohesion. It both enriches the lives of individuals and the communities of which they are a part. Adult learning is not a luxury, it is an essential component of our education

system ... Unless everyone – rich or poor, young or old – is offered the chance to learn and to carry on learning though their lives then these ideals that will not be realised. They are ideals that should be part and parcel of all education, all life experience.’ The early days of the coalition government

were notable for effusive expressions of commitment to adult learning from the new Secretary of State, Vince Cable, and from John Hayes. Both made clear they did not want to see state support for learning limited to narrowly conceived utilitarian programmes, though they were frank about the struggle they would face to win the resources they will need to achieve their generous vision for adult learning. Writing in Adults Learning in September 2010, John Hayes promised a ‘fundamental shift of power downwards from central government to local communities’. Democratising learning, he said, would be a ‘critical part of the recovery. Unless we embrace the principle of lifelong learning, and become once again a people who value knowledge and take pride in skill, then we cannot begin the process of mending Britain’. The Comprehensive Spending Review in October protected the £210 million Adult Safeguarded Learning budget – a decision welcomed by NIACE and other campaigners, such as the Workers’ Educational Association and City Lit. However, Chancellor George Osborne also announced that the further education budget would be reduced from £4.3 billion to £3.2 billion by 2014-15 – a 25 per cent cut – while universities were told to prepare for a 40 per cent reduction in funding. Train to Gain, Labour’s flagship training programme, was abolished, with a pledge to boost spending on adult apprenticeships. It was the start of several months of frenetic reform in the public sector, much of it linked to the Prime Minister’s Big Society project. A new skills strategy, Skills for Sustainable Growth, was launched in November, proposing, among other things, the introduction of loans for study towards approved qualifications at Level 3 and above for students aged 24 and over, on the same basis as higher education, from 2013-14. In higher education, univer- sities minister David Willetts accepted Lord Browne’s recommendation to level the playing field between part-time and full- time students by making part-time students studying between 25 and 75 per cent of a full- time course eligible for tuition fee loans. This was widely welcomed within a sector in which part-time study had been in decline, thanks in part to an inequitable fees system, and in part to the previous government’s decision to phase out funding for students studying for qualifications equivalent to or lower than qualifications they already hold (the so-called ELQ rule). The appetite of part-timers for tuition fee

loans was just one of a number of questions left unanswered in what constituted a major shift in funding responsibility from the state to the

individual. Institutions and local authorities are having to manage significant cuts in public funding, while adapting creatively to new priorities and responsibilities. These are challenging times for NIACE too. Like other organisations in the sector, facing the toughest spending settlement in generations, the Institute has had to adapt to survive, reducing the size of its staff, but emerging with a clear sense of mission, a powerful campaigning edge and a strong commitment to put its energies as an organisation where learners need them most. NIACE continues to apply its resources and influence energetically to promote a pluralistic and inclusive vision of adult learning, and to argue, at local and national levels, that investment in learning can reduce costs in other areas of public spending, such as health and social care. With the sector coping with difficult challenges and a tough fiscal environment, the Institute faces its own challenges in making the strongest possible case for a wide range of formal and informal opportunities for adults to learn, in stressing the links between adult learning and a changing political agenda, and in finding new and creative ways of making those connections. There are some encouraging signs, and the political attention given to adult education by the coalition in the early days of the new Parliament suggests that, in some respects, NIACE has won the argument. But, as the legacy of The Learning Age suggests, there will be much to do in the years to come in ensuring that the gap between rhetoric and reality is kept as narrow as possible. As ever, there will be a difficult balance to be struck between the commitment of ministers and the risk that legislative changes, such as the introduction of fees for many ESOL students, could scupper their vision.


A History of Modern British Adult Education, Roger Fieldhouse and associates, NIACE 1996

A Passion for Learning: Celebrating 80 years of NIACE support for adult learning, presented by Howard Gilbert and Helen Prew, NIACE 2001

Russell and After: The politics of adult learning (1969-97), Peter Clyne with additional material by John Payne, NIACE 2006

‘Different battleground, new advocacy tactics: A decade of adult learning in England’, Lucia Quintero and Alan Tuckett, Convergence, Volume XL, Number 3-4, 2007

Remaking Adult Learning: Essays on adult education in honour of Alan Tuckett, Edited by Jay Derrick, Ursula Howard et al, Institute of Education/NIACE 2011


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