From education to employment

Minister and senior trade unionists urge union members to aim at higher education.

MP and Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, Bill Rammell, has given his backing to measures aimed at encouraging union members and college students into higher education (HE).

Mr Rammell was the guest speaker at a national conference hosted by unionlearn and the higher education project, Aimhigher, entitled “Helping Union Learners Aim Higher”.

The conference brought together experts in HE to examine how unions can continue helping their members into degree-level courses, through the work of over 18,000 Union Learning Reps, and allowed unionlearn to create new partnerships and to build on work with providers like the Open University, the National Open College Network, the University of Bath and Liverpool University.

Mr Rammell said: “I wholeheartedly support the work that Union Learning Reps are doing throughout the country to encourage people in work to engage with education. There has been a tremendous amount of work done around basic skills, but more people are gaining the confidence to go further, and projects such as AimHigher, working with unionlearn, are supporting people in their educational aspirations and encouraging individuals to discover their full potential.”

Survey results were conveyed that show many union members were increasingly aware of the need for higher level skills in the workplace, but felt there were still barriers to accessing HE. These included: achieving time off to study, having fees paid for or contributed to, and gaining support with childcare, travel and study costs. Traditional methods of learning, such as lectures, were another turn-off for some potential learners.

Unionlearn director, Liz Smith said: “I warmly welcome the Minister’s support for trade union learners. As our latest piece of research shows, union learners are ready, willing and able to move on to the next challenge, which is higher education. Unionlearn has valuable partnerships with leading providers in education, and is providing ways in which union members can taste higher education before they hopefully go on to access courses.”

Aimhigher has also recently launched a new range of free resources, including printed guides and a DVD, to help college staff inform students about the different routes into HE, course options and the finance packages available to support entrants.

Mr Rammell encouraged the promotion of HE in colleges saying: “Many young people have the potential to enter higher education, but might be held back by underachievement, indecisiveness, or a lack of confidence. We recognise that school and college staff have a tough job to do and hope these new resources will support their work.”

Paul Malbon

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