Memorandum from the National Institute
of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) (ILA 12)
1. The National Institute of Adult Continuing
Education works to encourage more and different adults to engage
in learning of all kinds. NIACE's functions include research,
development and consultancy; advocacy to inform and influence
public policy; information services and dissemination; campaigning
for, and celebrating the achievements of, adult learners. Established
in 1921, NIACE is an independent non-governmental organisation,
a registered charity and company limited by guarantee. Its corporate
and individual members come from all sectors concerned with adult
learning: colleges; local authorities; universities; voluntary
and community organisations; churches; broadcasters and unions.
While receiving core grants from the DfES, National Assembly for
Wales and through the 1988 Local Government Act, the majority
of its income is earned through research, development and consultancy
workincluding contracts with the UK government, the EU
and the national lottery.
2. NIACE welcomes the present government's
investment in post-compulsory education and its aspirations to
widen participation. While we have criticised the detail or balance
of proposals at times, we have tried to provide advice and assistance
to maximise the effectiveness of policies and resources. NIACE
welcomed the introduction of ILAs as evidence of the government's
commitment to adult learning but was sceptical that they were
the best instrument through which to motivate individuals who
have no prior history of participation to take up education and
training. While acknowledging ILAs as a bold and innovative experiment,
we found them unconvincing as a centrepiece of policy and saw
their value as an interesting niche product. In particular, we
that the near-universal offer was
an expensive way to widen participation because of the amount
whether discounting was a long-term
means of demonstrating the value of learning;
that the banking metaphor at the
heart of the ILA policy had anything to offer the hardest-to-reach
learners. (More than two million adults do not use any mainstream
financial services at all);
that insufficient emphasis was given
to linking individualised accounts to other measures such as guidance
and collective "pooling" of accounts.
3. It would be a tragedy, however, if the
problems which led to the initiative's closure were to result
in any lessening of commitment to, and resourcing for, individually-driven
adult learning, or if it led to some of the principles to which
ILAs tried to give expression, being abandoned as too risky. It
is crucial to remember that learners, individually and acting
in groups, were not the cause of this policy failure and that
they, and potential learners, are the real victims.
4. We believe that other initiatives currently
receiving more modest levels of public support also show the value
of the principles that ILAs sought to implement and have been
rather more successful in reaching non-participants. Initiatives
such as Adult Learners' Week and Bite-Size Courses have proved
highly cost-effective in motivating non-participating adults to
consider taking up learning and to engage in it with little financial
risk. For example:
The most recent evaluation of ILAs
(January 2002) states that only 18 per cent of account redeemers
had no qualifications and that 36 per cent already had a qualification
equivalent to NVQ level 4 or above. Furthermore, 54 per cent of
redeemers would have been able to pay for their course without
In contrast, just 18 per cent of
callers to the Adult Learners' Week 2001 help line had qualifications
above level 3 and 55 per cent of callers had no recent experience
of learning. 52 per cent of respondents then went on to take up
a course of study.
The evaluation of Bite-Size Courses
found that new learners constituted 17 per cent of those reached
by the initiative but that of the 41 per cent who went on to take
a subsequent course, 31 per cent were new learners.
There is a strong implication here that any
new form of ILAs would benefit from clear linkage to other measures
to widen participation through stimulating demand.
5. We believe that future government initiatives
should build upon the following three principles:
Encouraging adults to value learning and to invest
their own time and money in it is not helped by prescription or
proscription. Allowing prospective learners to begin their journey
where they want to start is crucial in motivating the least motivated.
A wide range of opportunities, certificated and non-certificated,
formal and informal intended for a variety of purposes whether
directly vocational or not, is essential.
Allowing prospective learners to access resources
ring-fenced for their learning reduces the perception of financial
risk associated with participation. This can be an important motivational
factor for new and less-confident learners. Entitlement is at
the heart of the basic skills strategy and employee development
schemes such as Ford EDAP have more than 10 years successful experience
of this model in which the entitlement is supported by advice
and guidance to allow informed choice.
Putting Control of Resources in the
Hands of Prospective Learners Rather than Providers
At a time when ministers and officials will be
cautious with new lifelong learning policy initiatives, it is
important to remember that the ILA scheme was not brought down
as a result of putting trust in learners.
6. We would urge Government to give special
consideration to the following three issues:
The lack of quality assurance arrangements in
the English ILA system was a surprising policy misjudgement that
is even more shocking than weaknesses in administrative mechanisms.
Any new policy should have clear and proportionate QA monitoring
arrangements in place from the start. The arrangements in other
parts of the UK suggest that this need not necessarily involve
high levels of bureaucratic red tape or additional work for inspection
Devolved or Centralised Administration?
The centralised administration of accounts appears
to have contributed to problems. Without commenting upon the national
system we simply note that there appears to have been little or
no evidence of misuse or abuse of ILAs when they were first piloted
by Training and Enterprise Councilsand that while some
pilots did not widen participation significantly, others showed
evidence of effective work. Devolving administration to regional
or local level may have many benefits although there will undoubtedly
be boundary issues.
Wide Offer or Targeting?
A wide offer may be unnecessarily generous, ending
up providing public support to individuals already convinced of
the value of learning, who would have been willing and able to
meet the costs of learning themselves. In addition, it may reinforce
rather than change patterns of participation. We believe that
the only case for having a wide offer would be if it were genuinely
universalcovering initial higher education as well as further
education (members may recall that the Learning Bank policy set
out in the 1992 Commission for Social Justice report which did
cover HE). A more tightly targeted system might prioritise either
individuals (by level of prior attainment) or communities (prospective
learners in rural areas are disadvantaged by lack of choice, for
example) or both.
7. Among the many ways in which future policy
could be strengthened, three priority areas are:
In other parts of the UK (but not in England),
ILAs could be used to purchase advice and guidance. This has the
potential to result in more informed and effective choice. Integrating
any new initiative with information, advice and guidance strategies
should be an imperative.
Focussing on Groups as well as Individuals
A culture that respects and values lifelong learning
will not be built simply by individualised programmes. Learning
is, at its best, a social experience. Individuals are motivated,
supported and taught by their families and peers in their neighbourhoods
and workplaces. Some of the ILA pilots experimented with the pooling
of accountsan area which would merit further development.
There is also evidence from other community-based lifelong learning
policy initiatives that informed intermediaries can help encourage
participation among groups of new learners.
The course discounts, which were central to the
failed national system of ILAs, did little to send a message that
learning was of value. They simply risked distorting an already
complex market for education and training in ways that were not
8. Overall, NIACE believes that the main
choices facing the government for the future are to do with how,
rather than whether, to expand the learning community. Doing this
will require innovation, risk and a variety of policy instruments.
The central lesson to be learned from the English ILA scheme is
that policy ended up being driven by the technical mechanism.
It lost sight of the need to ensure that different learners as
well as more learners were engaged in learning and offered a high-quality
9. Finally, it is worth juxtaposing the
Departmental overspend of £62.9 million on ILAs with the
figure of a £233 million underspend on the DfES lifelong
learning objective reported by Estelle Morris in answer to a parliamentary
question on 9 January 2002. NIACE's concern is that the system
has yet to develop a speed and volume of response to make best
use of publicly allocated funding. Where ILAs combined popularity
and reach (or example in some work led by trade unions), their
loss makes growing the learning society harder to achieve.
10. NIACE would be pleased to provide the
Committee with further information about anything covered in this
note or any aspect of lifelong learning policy. Please contact
Alan Tuckett (Director) or Alastair Thomson (Policy & Development
National Institute of Adult Continuing Education