Submission from European Research into
Europe needs life-long learning to achieve its
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