With only six days to go before the nation goes to their local polling station or relaxes at home after putting their postal ballot into their nearest convenient postbox, the campaigning continues apace. Again, education has been one of those issues often raised and spoken on in debates, interviews and speeches; and, again, little has been said on the subject of Further Education. This is much to the detriment of the debate on education, given the vitality of the sector, and much to the chagrin of the Right Hon. Mark Fields, current Member for the Cities of London and Westminster.
In March of this year, he gave a speech on Chancellor Gordon Brown’s budget, describing it as a “stand still” budget, which he anticipated would be replaced by a further financial statement following the election. And in the telephone interview yesterday, he reiterated his view that, in a fast changing world with increasing competition and the seemingly inevitable draw down of the industrial sector due to uncompetitive wage and benefits packages compared with other nations, the future success of Britain rests not only on school and higher education, but also on further education and lifelong learning.
Mr. Fields stressed that this should be a debate that crosses political boundaries, and requires a co-operative approach with the interests of students within the FE sector in mind rather than parochial party concerns. Mentioning the recent MG Rover crisis as a case in point, he emphasized the need for the provision of adequate opportunities for further education funding and the encouragement of adult skills learning and retraining. Citing a “cinderella” attitude towards FE that he feels to be ill-advised, Mr. Fields believes the days of a “job for life” may well be at an end. Mr. Fields went on to say that in this case, with an expectation that they may have to be adequately qualified for more than one career in their working lives, lifelong learning takes on an even greater significance.
Mr. Fields believes that retraining of those already in work is equally as important; once again, the MG Rover closure has highlighted the need for a broader skills set on the part of those in the working population, and has also served make very clear the deficiencies in the provisions provided for adult learning. He also addresses a disturbing trend he has noted in university funding, claiming that a real drain of talent is on the horizon with the most talented students moving to universities abroad in their teens because of the greater learning resources available to them there.
He has said that, should he be re-elected as MP for the City of London and Westminster, he would be happy to clarify further the local implementation of policies in the FE sector within his potential constituency. In the meantime, he returns to campaigning for his post, stressing the importance of further education in maintaining Britain’s position in the world and providing a successful and responsive learning environment within the education sector.
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