Thursday, August 27, 2009

Paying for part-time

Thanks to Roger, in comments on the post below, for bringing this Policy Exchange report on the funding of part-time learning to my attention. I especially appreciated his caveat, "I normally wouldn't touch anything from David Cameron's allegedly favourite think tank with a very long barge pole".

There is actually a lot of sense in the paper and it graphically demonstrates the utter illogicality of the lower level of support for part-time students, especially as part-time study is often more effective at hitting many of the government's key objectives.

There was one thing that I thought was off beam though when they wrote,
The boom in student applications has been driven in part by major growth in interest from older students, many of whom may have preferred to study part-time alongside a job if only there was proper help available from the Government.
Actually, anecdotal evidence seems suggest that the reason for the growth in applications from mature students is not that they can't get the support to study whilst working but that they have lost their job due to the recession. For some this is a great opportunity to do something different. If work has given you up, then you don't have to take the risk of giving work up to follow your dreams. That is what happened to me. Made redundant in the recession of 1977, I got into university in 1978 thinking that after three years there would be plenty of jobs again. Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979. Ah.

Probably the most eye-catching bit for me was the light the report threw on policy making. It is critical of the new University Challenge initiative and recommends diverting funding from it to support part-time learning. (They would call it University Challenge wouldn't they? Mind you, inevitably, the report is called Educating Rita?)
Sources close to the Government say that University Challenge was a back-of-an-envelope strategy, patched together as a sign that the Government cared about regeneration following the collapse of the much-vaunted super casinos scheme in early 2008. Big universities are often the largest or second largest employer in a city, and thus provide a considerable boost in terms of jobs, revenue, skills and aspirations. If you ignore the fact that a university cannot really be developed for £5 million or £10 million, investing in new higher education institutions seemed an obvious political answer.
Yikes. So learning is an emergency replacement for gambling? And a poorly thought out one at that.

One of the most ghastly clichés that New Labour has been prone to trotting out is the need for "joined up thinking". If you want to see an example of the opposite, something incoherent, contradictory and disjointed, look at Lifelong Learning policy and, whatever the result of the forthcoming general election, I have little hope of anything better for poor old battered and marginalised adult education.

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