From education to employment

A Lordly Reminder of the Value of Part-Time Education

Dr Julie Mills, Principal & Chief Executive, Milton Keynes College

Barely noticed or reported on, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has released a report on the state of funding for post-school education.

Not a punch was pulled as it pulverised government policy, saying:

“The system of post-school education in England is not a system. It is unbalanced in favour of full time university degrees, and as a result offers poor value for money to individuals, taxpayers and the economy.”

The report is particularly scathing on the subject of part-time provision saying:

“The decline in part-time learning in higher education is a result of restrictions around accessing loans for students who already have a degree, the increase in tuition fees in 2012 and the lack of maintenance support for part-time students (which will be available from 2018/19).

Similar funding restrictions have also led to a decline in part-time study in further education. A credit-based system whereby people can learn in a more modular way and at their own pace should be introduced.”

It’s hard to overstate the value of part-time study; hard for me at least because I undertook my bachelor’s degree, my masters and my doctorate in this way, and wouldn’t be writing this now from my position as Principal and CEO of Milton Keynes College if it hadn’t been an option.

As ever, it’s about the money, but we in Further Education have to find ways of boosting numbers in spite of a very difficult funding environment.

At Milton Keynes College we’ve changed our approach to recruitment in the part-time market, primarily by switching our focus from vigorously promoting courses where funding is most easily available to identifying, “customer groups,” and targeting them with the options most likely to appeal.

We’ve branded all our adult learning under the banner of the “Skills Agency” and grouped courses under helpful categories like:

  • “Improve Your Employability Skills”
  • “Looking for a career change or to retrain”, and
  • “Gain an Industry-related qualification.”

A strategic review of adult provision has enabled us to see more clearly what we offer and to whom it’s likely to appeal. We’ve analysed the areas most likely to see growth in the next few years to prioritise those and are using our strong links with local business to shape the curricula accordingly. When money’s short it’s all about partnerships.

Government, employers, potential learners and training providers have got work together to get the most out of what’s available. 

We have to continue to develop online learning to make study as economical as possible, and that means vigorous marketing so people are aware of what they can study.

We’re certainly hoping for a boost in numbers thanks to a government trial for 2018-2019 which will enable eligible adults to access AEB [Adult Education Budget] funding. This means learners in low-paid work will receive full funding if they meet eligibility criteria. We have to make a sufficient success of this for the trial to become permanent.

It would be disingenuous to say that funding is anything other than crucial to the development of part-time education but a lack of cash isn’t an excuse not to do everything we can.

In this world where all jobs are potentially vulnerable to technological or post-Brexit ructions, the opportunity for people to upgrade their skills is more important than ever.

Take it from one who knows, part-time learning can be as life-changing as the full-time variety. We cannot afford to let its decline continue.

Dr Julie Mills, Principal & Chief Executive, Milton Keynes College

Copyright © 2018 FE News

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