Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Second chance blues

If you want to know why I am sitting here writing a blog post rather than working at the job that I loved, was rather good at, and, at only 61 (but a child), am more than capable of doing, read this article.

It is mainly about the Open University, but this was not the only way people accessed second chance education later in life. At Hull we used to run part-time degree and sub-degree courses in hundreds of locations both directly and in partnership with employers, trade unions and the voluntary sector. But, along with many other universities' lifelong learning departments, it is no more. The only reason is the changes to university funding. And contrary to the sub-editor's heading to Laura McInerney's piece, the damage was done by successive governments, including Labour administrations.

We all remember the presentation evenings; those moving affirmations of the value of learning. McInerney does too:
There's nothing quite so electrifying as watching families jump to their feet when mum, dad, or even great-gran takes to the stage. The years of juggled childcare, jobs and family finances melt away as the graduate beams down from the stage, amazed that their moment has come. And in the audience you see the cavalry: the proud partner who poured endless cups of tea, the parents who babysat, the children who hugged mum the morning of her exams and almost made her cry when they said: "We love you whatever."
And now departments have closed and fees have escalated. Mature student numbers are down and part-time enrolments have shrunk by as much as 40%. The reason is simple. The somewhat dubious bargain of early debt to be repaid by a lifetime's earnings premium does not apply when you are older. If you have a mortgage or rent to pay, children to feed and educate, elderly parents to care for, the money for education must come lower on your list of priorities, even if you are on an average income. Second chance learning already entails sacrifices, but if the cost is too high and the debts pile up, then it can't be afforded by anyone with adult commitments. Anyone who has worked in adult education knows how price sensitive it is.

The relentless focus on education for younger people has masked the vandalism of adult education in all its guises. It is a tragedy. As McInerney concludes:
People who slipped through the education net first time around do not need mawkish sentimentality. They need low-cost options for accessing higher education. If they, and their families, have the determination to do all the rest of the hard work, the least they can expect is that politicians on both sides will fight to support them.


George S said...

I agree, this is a tragedy. What a loss, not only to individuals but to the idea of a society.

Bernie Gudgeon said...

I enjoyed my experiences with the OU. As someone (aged 62) that left school at a time when only 7% or so progressed to university education, who has spent most of his life playing catch up, the OU was a useful resource. Not because I needed to improve my career prospects but as a means of filling in some blanks. At £700 per module it was an indulgence; at £2,500 it is a no-no. Whilst I can live with the absence, I was mostly the token (1/10) man. For me it was fun, for most of the (younger) women it was an opportunity to transform their lives, to take a significant step-up in career prospects. On their behalf it is disappointing.