Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Learning to live

Norm was first to A C Grayling's splendid demolition of one of the new philistines (education is about "giving graduates the ability to excel in tired clichés the subjects we know will feed an information-based, technology-driven global economy"). However, it is still worth commenting approvingly on Grayling's advocacy of lifelong learning.

... we think education stops around the end of the second decade, and that people will then get on with the next stage of conformity, as both cogs in the wealth-production machine and consumers of its outputs. But education should be a lifelong endeavour. When it is, it is richly satisfying and keeps minds fresh and flexible, and maintains interest in the possibilities of the world.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard the phrase 'adult education is my lifeline'. It really is life enhancing, transforming and, in some cases, life saving. Its sacrifice on the altar of employment skills is a major act of social and cultural vandalism. Grayling continues by picking up on a long running theme of this blog,

By one of those incomprehensible acts of stupidity of which governments are so frequently capable, our own has decided no longer to fund "equal or lower qualifications" in higher education, meaning that if you have a bachelor's degree in English literature and after 20 years in the workplace wish to study for one in computing or nursing, the government will not fund it. So much for the tens of thousands of people who, part-time, continue with or return to higher education to extend and refresh themselves by taking up new subjects and opening new horizons.

He actually gets something wrong, which makes the situation even more bizarre. The government is exempting Strategically Important Vocational Subjects (SIVS) and nursing is one of them. That means that you can become a nurse but not a computer scientist, an arbitrary division that will affect real lives.

In these times, every voice raised in support of learning for life, in both senses of the term, is welcome if we are to fight back against the triumph of a narrow and bureaucratic concept of education. Bravo Grayling!


Anonymous said...

Rarely read anything that's made me angrier than the stuff from that Monck tosser. Knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing springs to mind.

DorsetDipper said...

well hang on a minute ... there's a difference between saying that adult education is a good thing, and saying that the state should pay for it?

The Plump said...


You could say that about anything - defence, health, schools etc. Anyway, the State doesn't pay for it, taxpayers do. And adult students have paid taxes all their lives.

They have paid for these opportunities over and over again. They have paid for other people to do it and then when their chance comes, often at the end of a long working life, the government who allocates the taxes they have paid decides not to spend the dosh on them after all and dismantles the system they have paid for in order to cut taxes on the affluent or, throw large sums at management consultants, or on some latest bureaucratic wheeze in education.

In the last two years we have lost 1,400,000 students from adult education. A system that was built over a century, with all the sunk costs that involves, has been thrown away.

DorsetDipper said...

Well no, Plump One, you couldn't say that about anything. Schools, NHS are there to enable everyone to be able to participate in society regardless of background and circumstances.

Should there really be a blank cheque to go on whatever courses one feels?

The argument that they have paid for the opportunities over and over again implies that tax is some kind of fund that people can draw on. Well - is that why governments levy taxes?

I think adult education is a great thing, and may do some more myself at some point. But I'm just not sure that the argument for the tax payer to fund this, when the benefit is clearly to the individual and not to society as a whole, is a strong one.

The Plump said...

The social benefits of adult education are enormous. Another frequently expressed sentiment is that it "saves the NHS a fortune".

Also the work that we do in community outreach can start a process of transforming communities, especially where we work in partnership with the voluntary sector.

You could say that the NHS only benefits the health of individuals. We all benefit. Besides, the state has been funding this for 100 years. This is an entitlement that is being removed not yet another demand being made for something extra.

DorsetDipper said...

fair enough.

Sounds like perhaps you should call yourself community regeneration consultants and wait for the dosh to roll in.

The Plump said...

You have a point there DD. :-)

Plump Community Consultants - my future path is clear.

DorsetDipper said...

I'e been discussing this at work.

I work in banking in the City, where it is quite common for people to do additional courses to advance their careers, such as MBA's, or Masters in Mathematical finance.

All these courses are paid for by the individual, and they do this because they see they will be better off for having done it.

It still seems to me absurd to expect the government to pay for an educational course which is undertaken solely to make the person doing it richer. It is the job of the markets to provide the relevant career advancement courses.

So why does Monck think that is what the government should be promoting? It's nonsense.

Surely the case for government spending on adult education is to do the things that are necessary for a healthy society, which are mainly humanities and arts.

The Plump said...

Thanks DD. That is a really nice line to take and not one that I had considered. Interesting outbreak of altruism in the City :-)

Good discussion.

MJW said...

The problems with the removal of funding for ELQs are many and go deeper than simply asking why the state should pay for adult education.

To start with there is an immediate contradiction; the government says it wants people to engage in life long training and education, then it says it wants to encourage this by removing an important part of the financial support for it. Now the governemnt is either telling lies, or it's got a split personality.

After that there are the practical issues; removing ELQ funding hits hardest those education and training establishments that provide adult education to all adult students, not just ELQ students, so everybody loses due to the cuts. Again, the government is either telling lies about life long learning or it's quite simply insane.

As for dorsetdipper's comments, I think he/she misunderstands; people who do ELQs do usually pay for their courses. They pay at the same rate as equivalent students who don't have the ELQ. What the government wants to do is make them pay the same as overseas students, which will make the courses cost prohibitive for most people returning to education. Less people in adult education means less courses can be maintained, means the sector declines whilst the government stands up and tells everybody how well they're doing growing it.

Also, the people in the City taking advanced qualifications, will be almost certainly be benefiting from public funding if they're a British citizen and they're studying at a public institution. So whilst they will pay part of the cost directly, they will also be paying indirectly through their taxes.

But ultimately if the government thinks that public investment in adult education is a good thing, and that's what it claims, then it should do it properly. If it doesn't think it's a good thing then it should stop saying it is and stop funding it, what it's currently doing is half baked, saying one thing, doing the opposite. Considering the money that the government is prepared to spend on things like ID cards, databases that don't work, quangos and all manner of other assorted shite, it's attitude to adult education is frankly retarded.

The Plump said...

it's attitude to adult education is frankly retarded.

Spot on!! (And you like Rugby League).

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