Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 72

Submission from European Research into Consumer Affairs

Europe needs life-long learning to achieve its Lisbon vision


  Studying for an Equivalent or Lower Qualification benefits the nation because it helps individuals to match their skills to the future demands for innovation. This argues against phasing out support for ELQs.

  1.  The priority for the UK, as for wider Europe, is to get the economy working better. It was agreed at the Lisbon summit of 2000 that, to achieve the ambition to make the EU the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, research and innovation must be boosted and made more efficient. Gordon Brown, when Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote "Europe's investment in research and development is only 2% of gross domestic product, compared with 2.7% in the US and 3.1% in Japan". A population with ever improving skills is needed to meet this challenge.

  2.  So education must be a continuing part of the life of the British, and of Europeans in general. People should be encouraged to extend their education in ways that they judge to be best for their own careers. This may well include study for an Equivalent or Lower Qualification (ELQ) when needed. The government should encourage this educational provision, in particular by the pioneering Birkbeck College London and the Open University whose help is particularly important to disadvantaged and to other unusual students. If the UK did phase out the support given to institutions for students taking second qualifications, at whatever level, this would discourage broadening skills, or changing disciplines, to fit individuals for their lives in tomorrow's rapidly evolving environment.

  3.  To illustrate how an equivalent or lower qualification can enhance career development let me give but two examples from my own acquaintance:

    —  John Maynard Smith FRS, already having a degree in aeronautical engineering and a first career designing aircraft, took an equivalent qualification in zoology. He became one of the most distinguished population geneticists in the world. When he was a student for the second time, as a bonus springing from his intellectual maturity and a mathematical ability scarce among biologists, he was an inspiration to all his fellow students and certainly enhanced our education.

    —  In the current issue of Nature (10 January 2008) an obituary relates how "one of the giants of twentieth century biology", Seymour Benzer, having obtained a PhD in physics, "Purdue hired him as a physics professor, but almost immediately he began working in biology, taking the `bacteriophage course' at Cold Spring Harbour". This was certainly a lower qualification, but it led to great benefits for molecular biology.

  4.  The Lisbon agenda is already way behind schedule and may prove mere hubris unless, among other things, the European nations back students who wish to learn afresh so as to fit themselves for the new challenges that globalisation is bringing.

January 2008

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