Leader of Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable

The Independent Commission on Lifelong Learning, which was convened by Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, has today set out a vision for a 'new era of learning throughout life' with proposals for government grants of up to £9,000.

The grants, which would be invested into universal Personal Education and Skills Accounts (PESA), are designed to encourage saving towards the costs of education and training throughout life.

The proposals would see the Government make three contributions each worth £3,000 to the accounts when individuals turn 25, 40 and 55. 

The Independent Commission on Lifelong Learning developed the proposals over the past year. The Commission’s members are all leading education experts.

Rajay Naik, Chair of the Commission, said:

“Given the unquestionable forces of globalisation and automation, we are entering a period where we will have multiple careers, let alone multiple jobs during our lives. The need to retrain and reskill for roles that do not yet exist will only grow and therefore for individuals and our country to succeed a culture of lifelong learning is vital.

“This requires bold action and giving individuals greater power over their learning and development. Our proposals, which enjoy widespread support from a wide spectrum of politicians and organisations, see existing funds redeployed to allow greater access to learning. It will ensure that people have access to advice and guidance about what the best opportunities are for them and gives them greater control over their future. 

“We hope that the Government considers these proposals in full and begins the necessary work to give individuals greater access to learning and thereby boost competitiveness.”

Leader of Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, added:

“I warmly welcome this credible and compelling set of proposals from the Independent Commission on Lifelong Learning. Giving opportunities to access education and training which continue throughout adulthood, is a vital part of ensuring we have a highly skilled workforce, and that individuals are able to access fulfilling employment throughout their lives. 

“I am hugely grateful to Rajay Naik and his Commission for the diligent and determined work they have done to arrive at these detailed recommendations. I am particularly persuaded about account top-ups being staggered throughout adult life and the opportunity for individuals, business and other groups to diversify the range of investment beyond Government.

“Liberal Democrats have always been committed to ensuring that education is accessible to all and I welcome the fact that these reforms would ensure that no one, irrespective of their background, is restricted in their opportunities to succeed.”

Professor Mary Kellett, Vice-Chancellor, The Open University, said:

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“Policymakers of all political parties must show how they will increase opportunities and promote a culture in which learning at all ages can flourish. Since the funding reforms in 2012, the number of part-time undergraduate students in England fell by 59%.

"People are facing funding barriers, which are hindering opportunities to learn, retrain and reskill. This prevents people from reaching their full potential and fails to equip them with the skills required to meet a changing economy.

"Personal Education and Skills Accounts recommended by the Independent Commission on Lifelong Learning are a welcome initiative to help remove some of these barriers and merit further exploration in a broader conversation about reversing the decline in adult learning.”

For this to become Liberal Democrat policy it would have to be passed at Liberal Democrat Conference.

Personal Education and Skills Accounts: Recommendations from the Independent Commission on Lifelong Learning

Introducing a universal Personal Education and Skills Account (PESA) which will be opened for every adult resident in England at the age of 18, to encourage saving towards the costs of education and training throughout life.

The Government will make three contributions, each worth £3,000, to the accounts when the account holder turns 25, 40 and 55.

Account holders and their employers will also be able to make payments into the accounts. This will be incentivised by the Government offering tax relief and/or match-funding on contributions made by account holders.

Governments will also be able to choose to make additional payments into accounts. These could be triggered by specific events such as redundancy or a period of long-term unemployment, or targeted to reduce social and economic inequality, such as by being given to workers on low incomes or with a low level of qualifications.

From the age of 25 onwards, account holders will be able to use money saved in the accounts to pay for education and training courses which are delivered through accredited providers.

When using money from their accounts, account holders will be given careers guidance sessions to support them in choosing a course or qualification which will help them achieve their personal or career development aims. 

Accounts will remain open and available to account holders throughout their life.

Members of the commission, who are all leading experts in the education and skills sector, include:

Rajay Naik – Chief Commercial Officer at Study Group (Chair)
David Barrett – Former Assistant Director, Access and Participation, Office for Students
Stephen Evans – Chief Executive, Learning and Work Institute
David Hughes – Chief Executive, Association of Colleges
Sir Simon Hughes – Chancellor of London South Bank University
Shakira Martin –  President, National Union of Students
Dame Ruth Silver – President, Further Education Trust for Leadership
Ruth Spellman – Chief Executive and General Secretary, Workers' Educational Association
Matthew Taylor – Chief Executive, Royal Society of Arts
John Widdowson – Principal, New College Durham

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said:

“This is a timely and helpful report as the consensus grows from all parts of Westminster and from business that the time has finally come to rebalance the provision of education and skills to create a truly world class post-18 education system.

"As our country’s skills gaps widen further, and as the world of work continues to change at such a rapid pace, it is right that people are given more control and agency over their training and learning at all stages of their lives – Personal Education and Skills Accounts have the potential to play an important role in this.”  

David Barrett, former Assistant Director of the Office for Students, said:

"The benefits of lifelong learning for society and individuals are clear. If we are to truly enable a more equitable society, we need to create and support a culture of lifelong learning for all and in particular for those who face the persistent barriers of social and educational disadvantage."

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said:

“Lifelong learning has perhaps never been more important, it is essential for helping people and employers adapt to economic change and promoting health, wellbeing and active citizenship. Yet budget cuts mean fewer adults are in learning and our research shows the UK risks falling further behind other countries by 2030.

"We need to set a higher ambition. This will require additional investment but also new ways of engaging adults. Personal accounts can play a vital role in both of these, putting people more in control of their learning and creating new ways for Government, employers and individuals to invest together. They are an idea that the Learning and Work Institute have long championed and an idea whose time has come.”

Ruth Spellman, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Workers' Educational Association, said:

“The overwhelming emphasis of policy and finance is still on the education and skills of young people. We currently have a weakened infrastructure to support adult learners especially the most disadvantaged and the number of adult learners has fallen dramatically in the last decade. The report highlights why this is unhelpful in the modern economy and that we are failing many adults and employers who need up to date skills, throughout working life.

“We need an education and skills strategy and system which supports the 80 per cent of people who are already in work, who will be working longer and who face major structural changes in labour markets and technological displacement.

 “This report makes important and helpful recommendations which are relevant to the modern economy and which could deliver greater flexibility and opportunity for adult learners if implemented. Learning accounts will ensure that individuals are better able to afford education at all stages of life and one of the positive ways we are able to redress the balance for adult learners.

 “We look forward to taking part in the pilot and ask the Chancellor and Department for Education to consider supporting this proposal as part of this year’s comprehensive spending review."

Dame Ruth Silver, President of the Further Education Trust for Leadership, said: 

"Lifelong learning must be part of the way in which we think about and plan our societies, we must think harder about its place in our education system, for the future demands more not less learning to develop the range of required capabilities."

Please see here ONS statistics from 2017 that provide a population breakdown by region, county and district for people aged 25, 40 and 55 (the years in which grants would be paid out).

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