Pilot to reverse the decline in adult learning

If the UK is to grasp the challenges of regional economic development, rapid advances in technology, and an ageing population, more people of all ages should be given opportunities to upskill, retrain and develop the higher level skills employers need. 

Both the Augar review of post-18 education and funding, and UUK’s 2018 joint project with the CBI on the drop in part-time students, emphasised the need for more people to reskill and upskill. They both highlight that a more modular approach to learning is needed, alongside more flexible funding routes.  

Our research into the drop in part-time learning revealed that the current regulatory and funding systems are simply not designed to promote more flexible ways of learning. This is particularly true for shorter courses, less intensive learning, and further study undertaken at older ages. 
Another barrier is the investment that is needed to scale up more flexible provision in institutions, combined with uncertainties in projecting future demand for more flexible ways of learning.

UUK's proposal

To support adult and lifelong learning, we are calling on the government to develop and fund a place-based pilot, with a focus on developing more modular provision at levels 4, 5 and 6. The pilot could be delivered regionally, and could provide an important testing ground prior to wider, longer-term system change. 

We recommend this is announced within the 11 March 2020 budget, with a link to the new National Skills Fund and ‘right to retrain’ commitment. 

This flexible learning pilot could:
  • simulate the operating conditions for funding under a more modular system of provision, to test demand from learners and local providers
  • incentivise local providers to work together on credit transfer and performance metric issues
  • identify how modular funding can address specific local skills gaps
We believe that the design of a pilot scheme could directly address the barriers that have been outlined, and offer a practical solution to exploring how best they can be resolved in longer-term changes to the system. 

A pilot scheme would demonstrate the government’s resolve to address long-standing issues around upskilling and retraining, while also allowing further exploration of how universities can offer more flexible and modular leaning that learners and employers need.  

Submit your ideas and views

We are calling for organisations and individuals with an interest in adult learning and a more flexible higher education system to submit their views in our call for evidence.


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