From education to employment

Liberal Democrat Party manifesto round-up for FE, employability and skills

I am proud of the Liberal Democrat manifesto, which I played a part in drafting, and I am particularly proud of the section on further education. The Liberal Democrats are eager to make sure that all young people have the support and opportunities to thrive.

Colleges throughout the country make a great contribution to further education, through the provision of short courses and evening classes on a wide range of subjects. Such courses offer a great social mix, bringing together people who have already been in higher education with those who are experiencing it for the first time.

I believe that further education is crucial to the development of skills in the UK, and if we are to prosper beyond the recession then a skilled workforce is essential.

The Liberal Democrats believe that the value of further education is obvious: it provides a crucial route for people to both re-skill and up-skill. It gives people an opportunity to gain the skills, knowledge and aspiration to progress their careers, which boosts productivity for both employers and the nation as a whole, and it can also increase self-esteem and mental wellbeing. This is why the Liberal Democrats have set out policies in their manifesto that seek to improve further education services and give young people better opportunities after school or college, as well as ensuring that adults wishing to return to education are given the support and guidance that they need.

Firstly, the Liberal Democrats want to fund 15,000 additional Foundation Degrees in our first year in government. These practical courses would combine study with work-place learning, giving students a real opportunity to learn the skills to help them get a job future. This year record numbers of young people are expected to apply for a place at university and a record number will be disappointed as the scramble for places becomes even tougher. We want more young people to achieve higher skills to help them get jobs as the economy recovers, but we don’t think a traditional academic course is right for everyone. That’s why we will increase the number of foundation degrees, increasing the opportunity to learn high level practical skills.

Next we want to scrap fees for adult learners. Adults who want to get better qualifications currently struggle because they have to pay expensive tuition fees. We believe that everyone deserves a second change and so we will scrap these fees to make it easier for people to take these courses and gain further qualifications. Through reforming the Government’s Train to Gain Programme, we will scrap fees for adults aged over 25 taking their first Level 3 qualification, which would include A-Levels, BTECs and other vocational qualifications. We think that poor performance at school shouldn’t hold you back for life. All adults should be entitled to gain basic qualifications (Levels 2 and 3) and should not be unable to do this because of the cost of fees. The Liberal Democrats believe that if the UK is to remain internationally competitive and able to withstand the challenges of globalisation, the basic skill levels of the workforce need to improve.

Finally we want to simplify the system and do away with expensive quangos. The funding of adult education and universities is incredibly complicated. There are two huge quangos, the Skills Funding Agency and the Higher Education Funding Council for England with overlapping responsibilities and massive administrative budgets. We will replace these quangos with a single Council for Adult Skills and Higher Education (CASHE), responsible for funding adult education colleges and universities. The budgets for adult skills and higher education within CASHE would be ring-fenced and there would be a separate board to oversee research funding. A new funding council will also help in greater cohesion in the planning of the expansion of foundation degrees and other qualifications delivered through FE colleges. We will expect Local Authorities and CASHE to work with Jobcentre Plus to minimise 16-18 youth unemployment and the NEET group and ensure funding is appropriately targeted to help unemployed adults gain new skills and access education opportunities.

Stephen Williams is the Liberal Democrat spokesman for Innovation, Universities and Skills

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