“A Permanent National Necessity” – A Manifesto for Lifelong Learning

This Manifesto will be launched on 1 July 2024 by the ‘Adult Education 100’ Campaign, the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning, and the National Educational Opportunities Network.  Support for the Manifesto is sought from all organisations and individuals wishing to see our country recover and prosper.

Our country is in what feels like an unprecedented state of crisis.  The economy hasn’t recovered from the 2007-2009 international financial crisis and global recession – the first since the 1930s.  In Britain, the devastation was made worse by a decade of austerity, estimated to have caused thousands of deaths.  This exacerbated inequalities in wealth, income, geography, and power.  Unregulated new technologies could make matters worse.  Pandemics are forecast to become more common.  The climate crisis threatens human life on the planet.  We face a mental health and wellbeing crisis.  Democracy is under threat.

If there is a precedent, it would be the First World War, when a Ministry of Reconstruction was established to consider how society and the economy might recover from massive devastation.  Its most impactful legacy was the Final Report from its Adult Education Committee, which argued that lifelong learning for all was both central to reconstruction and a “permanent national necessity”.

Britain once again needs massive investment in education – including life-long and life-wide adult education.  For that is what it is – an investment for the future: in people, communities, the economy, and society.  This is needed for the changing world of work, individual wellbeing, societal resilience, community cohesion, and a rejuvenated democracy. 

What is needed from national, regional, city and local government; from business; and from universities and colleges?  First and foremost, we need the UK Government to commit to a National Strategy for Adult Education & Lifelong Learning, recognising the importance of devolved decision making.  Local delivery should be through partnership working by local and regional government, universities and colleges, trade unions and local employers, and a vibrant network of community, educational and voluntary organisations.  For these Adult Learning Partnerships to rejuvenate local communities and economies – playing a role in policy formation, not just delivery – local authorities and universities should be required to provide lifelong learning, with funding provided to enable this.

We need a properly funded Lifelong Learning Entitlement, with Individual Learning Accounts providing funding for education – not just the right to get into debt.  Community Learning Accounts could support informal, community-based learning initiatives led by local groups.  A trusted digital platform should be funded to support such education.  Learning at work should be encouraged – at the workplace, or with paid time off for courses off-site, and with provision for those in the ‘gig economy’.  The Union Learning Fund should be reinstated.  All this would promote social inclusion, across diverse ethnic communities, and for all those with protected characteristics within the Equality Act.  There should be a regular – ideally triennial – review of the state of the nation’s lifelong learning.  Investing in education helps the economy, as well as individuals and communities – in Rochdale Borough Council, for example, for every £1.00 spent on adult education and lifelong learning, £4.50 was saved on other service costs.  Our country cannot afford the continued massive waste being created by the lack of adult education and lifelong learning.