Lifelong affairs 1

March 19, 2009

In the past week, three universities - Bristol, Reading and Manchester - closed their public programmes of courses for adults.

The closure of such programmes, which have reached hundreds of thousands of people, is not another sad but inevitable result of the recession. The decision that led to these closures was taken well before this crisis.

Nor did the closures happen because the host universities no longer value such provision. These institutions have been desperately seeking to keep the provision alive. The closures are a direct result of government policy on equivalent or lower qualifications.

The rationale of the decision to "prioritise" first-time entrants was to move fractionally closer to the 50 per cent participation target, a target that the Government's own officials say is unachievable, to look like something was done about the Leitch "skills gap" agenda and to "send a signal" that, in future, only "vocational" courses, as defined by Whitehall, would be deemed worthy of public support.

It is a scandalous state of affairs that a Labour Government must celebrate as a policy "success" the closure of successful departments of lifelong learning, the end of a great civic tradition and the systematic exclusion of the public from our universities.

Ian Ground, ianground@mac.com.

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