Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 22

Submission from the Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning (IFLL)



  This submission addresses three issues:

    — The need for more rapid progress in implementing a credit system for post-school education— Mode-free funding as a means of promoting equity in HE participation: the need for a long-term approach— The case for drawing the basic line between youth and adulthood at age 25.

      The submission therefore relates primarily to the Committee's fourth theme, on Student Support and Engagement but also to the first theme, Admissions.


      The Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning (IFLL) is a broad-ranging initiative, sponsored by NIACE. Its independent Board of Commissioners is chaired by Sir David Watson. The Inquiry's main goal is to provide a strategic framework for the future of lifelong learning, with a horizon of 10-15 years. It will report in mid-2009; this submission is therefore by way of initial thoughts. We have gathered evidence on a wide range of themes, and are about to publish papers on these. Details can be found at, and copies of the IFLL leaflet are attached.

    Lifelong learning includes education and training, formal and informal. The Inquiry's remit covers cradle to grave, but is focussed primarily on adults, including those in HE. A key strand in the Inquiry's work has been to draw up an overall picture of expenditure on lifelong learning. The review covers expenditure by government (all departments), employers, third sector and individuals. This has led us to some quite radical thinking on the balance and distribution of support for learning, which informs the comments below .

      These are still initial reflections from the Inquiry. We are not yet at the stage of finalising or publishing our recommendations. However we have considered it useful to make an input into the Committee at this stage, especially given the Committee Chair's expressed with to hear from people beyond the usual suspects.

    1.  Faster progress towards a proper credit framework

      The case for a coherent and easily understood framework for accumulating credits which will run across all sectors is well known. It is a basic component of a lifelong learning strategy, since it is an essential condition for people to be able to move in and out of education without having to start each time at the bottom of the particular ladder; and to be able to move between institutions similarly . There is a particular need for it to increase coherence between further and higher education.

    In 2002-03 over 11,000 of the 300,000 students who entered higher education institutions did so having been at a different institution in one of the preceding two years, with most of these students receiving no credit for their previous studies (HEPI 2004). Progress is much slower than it should be. The problem is not a technical but a cultural one. In other words, we know how to make a coherent system work, but there is a lack of political will, at system and institutional level. The flexibility which a proper credit framework brings will be all the more needed in the light of current economic turbulence and the effects this is having on employment: large numbers of adults will be seeking to improve their qualifications without having to commit themselves to a long stretch of full-time education.

      The Committee could help to address this by making strong recommendations on the need for rapid implementation, to unblock the issue.

    2.  Mode-free funding: the immediate need for a long-term target

      Part-time students are a significant part of the student population (Watson 2009). In 2005-6 there were nearly 200,000 part-time UK undergraduates, out of a total of 1,148,655 (when postgraduates are included they form around 40% of the total). But this is in spite of a discriminatory funding regime.

    At long last the case for better support for part-time students is getting more of a hearing, despite the ELQ setback. However the basic challenge remains to be met. Support for students who are not studying full-time should be as generous as that given to their full-time equivalents. This is on grounds of both equity and efficiency. Part-time students are no less deserving, and often come from backgrounds which are less orthodox than full-timers. By studying part-time, and often working at the same time, they can continue to contribute to the economy and reduce maintenance costs. Discriminating against them is completely irrational as well as unfair.

      This argument directly addresses the Committee's concerns about meeting participation targets, and completion rates. Part-time students do have high non-completion rates, but with proper support these would drop.

      We recognise that a shift to mode-free funding, where part-time students would be supported on the same basis as full-timers, cannot be achieved overnight. But equally it should not be put off indefinitely merely because it is not immediately achievable.

      The Committee could make a major contribution to lifelong learning by recommending the adoption of mode-free funding as a long-term goal, to be achieved over the next decade.

    3.  25: a rational dividing line for HE policy and administration

      Higher education includes an increasingly diverse student population. Drawing a sensible dividing line between the initial phase of life, including education, and the adult phases (also including learning) is not merely a matter of anthropological interest. A major goal for the Inquiry is to achieve a better balance in the distribution of learning opportunities across people's lifetimes. To this end we are addressing the issues of how support for learning might be rationally organised to reflect the differences between youth and adulthood.

    Chronological age is always going to be unsatisfactory as a means of making this division. However policies will, realistically, never be age-free. Therefore we should choose, as the fundamental dividing-line, the least arbitrary age. The Inquiry's thinking is going strongly in the direction of 25, for the following reasons:

    — Very many young people continue their initial explorations of personal and professional identities until then. Increasing numbers are staying longer in full-time education. In 2008 there were 449,000 full-time students in HE aged between 21 and 24; many others have a pattern of dipping in and out, mixing education with work. It makes sense to recognise this extended process rather than sticking to an outmoded 21 as a transition point. But by 25 this empirical pattern is usually coming to close; and normatively, it may be a good idea to reinforce this by marking it as the close of the initial phase, without being too rigid.

    — This pattern extends beyond those who follow the conventional educational path. Enabling those who have not succeeded initially to return to learning is a fundamental challenge which HE policy should address. Strikingly, most young people who engage in criminal activity grow out of this by around 25. Inclusive policy, including but going beyond education, is more feasible if the threshold is set at this point, with opportunities for people to return to education as adults.

    — Neuroscientific evidence supports this, showing that the brain reaches full maturity also around this age, later than was commonly supposed.

    — Finally, all other dividing lines are significantly less appropriate. Of course many people are fully adult well before 25, and have decided on their careers, established families and so on. But the ages of 16,18,19, 21 all suffer from worse drawbacks, which do not recognise the realities of current life.

  There are two particular implications if this step is taken seriously:

    a. The evidence base for HE policy will be differently structured, in ways appropriate to demographic and social change and which will enable better solutions to the issues identified by the Committee. Data should be systematically gathered on the basis that 25 is a key dividing line. Of course there will be age sub-divisions of those below 25. But with 25 as the line, and due attention paid to those older than it, we will get for the first time a proper basis for looking at the balance between youth and adult (or initial and continuing) education and training.

    b. Individual entitlements to learning can be designed, to reflect the different needs of youth and adults. The Inquiry is likely to reach conclusions on the need for individual entitlements as a means of promoting personal learning. It will be far more coherent if we have a reasonably clearcut and justifiable basis for designing an adult system.

  We would be happy to elaborate on these points, or other aspects of the Inquiry's thinking. Please contact the IFLL Director, Tom Schuller,


  HEPI ( 2004), Credit Accumulation and Transfer and the Bologna Process, Oxford: Higher Education Policy Institute.

Watson, David (2009) "Universities and Lifelong Learning" in Peter Jarvis (ed.) Routlege International Handbook of Lifelong Learning., pp102-113.

December 2008

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