Lifelong learning ‘has never been more important for Wales’

The Wales Centre for Public Policy has told the Welsh government that lifelong learning should be a key focus for the new Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CTER)

Lifelong learning should be a key focus for Wales’ new Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CTER), says a new study.

The report by independent policy research institution the Wales Centre for Public Policy (WCPP), which is based at Cardiff University, says enhanced rights and entitlements to education, training and community learning – supported by career advice and more targeted government funding – are “crucial” to tackling Wales’ economic challenges.

The report aims to inform policy decisions and support the implementation of the CTER, which brings together higher education, further education and adult learning under a single regulatory body for the first time in Wales, replacing the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) as part of the Welsh government’s Tertiary Education and Research Bill.

Researchers analysed existing data on lifelong learning outcomes, consulted sector experts, convened a panel of policymakers and other stakeholders, and held a roundtable with Welsh government. They found basic skills among adults in Wales compared poorly to the rest of the UK, with data showing nearly a quarter of adults are without a level 2 qualification – equivalent to a GCSE at grades A*-C – and over half do not have the essential digital skills they need for work. Participation in adult education is also in decline.

“The Tertiary Education Bill… provides an opportunity to embed new ways of collaborative working across and between institutions, the Commission and Welsh Government to best meet the needs of individuals, society and the economy,” said Dr Helen Tilley, senior research fellow at the Wales Centre for Public Policy.

“Our report shows how a focus on lifelong learning is crucial to meeting such needs, which are constantly evolving due to events like Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic and the climate emergency. Technological advances in AI and automation as well as longer working lives among the general population mean there is a greater need for retraining as people’s skills become outdated.”

At a time of significant economic and social challenges including climate change and the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, lifelong learning has never been more important for Wales – Dr Susan Member, HOLEX

Study lead Dr Susan Pember, policy director for HOLEX, the lead professional body for adult community education and learning, said: “At a time of significant economic and social challenges including climate change and the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, lifelong learning has never been more important for Wales.

“Our report highlights how Wales can build a lifelong learning system fit for the future while addressing existing issues such as legacy skills gaps. This will require a co-ordinated approach that goes beyond the education sector alone but is instead delivered together with a network of local partnerships including community organisations and the voluntary sector, private providers, and local government.”

The report recommends that government funding should be made available to groups most in need of financial support, such as those with poor essential skills, 16-18 year old, unemployed people and those at risk of redundancy.

Jeremy Miles MS, minister for education and Welsh language, said: “I welcome this report, and am grateful for the work that has gone into its development. We are committed to expanding lifelong learning in Wales, and its promotion will be one of the strategic duties of the new Commission.

“We will consider the recommendations within the report and look at how they can inform our work to increase the number of adults learning in Wales, along with the implementation of our Tertiary Education and Research Bill, and the establishment of the Commission.”

Welsh universities have also recently highlighted the need to strengthen research and innovation in the Tertiary Education and Research BillProfessor Elizabeth Treasure, chair of Universities Wales, said: “We continue to welcome the broad aims of this legislation and we are pleased with the progress that has been made on a number of areas since the publication of the draft bill.

“However, we would strongly recommend strengthening the strategic duties in relation to research and innovation. This is going to be a large commission and research would be a relatively small part of the funding framework, so it’s crucial we strengthen the position of research and innovation in the duties.”

The Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill was presented to the Senedd on 1 November, and is currently at stage one of its four-stage passage through the Welsh parliament.

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