Use before summer 2011

December 23, 2010

Sally Feldman mentions the demise of the Lifelong Learning Networks ("Fuel for enlightenment", 9 December), which have been generously funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England for fixed-term periods from 2004. Their purpose is to increase the number of vocational learners in higher education through the development of innovative curricular and progression agreements. They have been exceptionally successful far beyond their original briefs.

The Lifelong Learning Networks have managed to help vocational learners to progress in an environment of equity and parity of esteem. Indeed, they are heavily involved in a number of key national developments - including frameworks for higher-level apprenticeships, ensuring that 14- to 19-year-old diploma learners are fairly treated, and offering innovative guidance to those outside learning who want to return.

Despite these success stories, by July 2011 the majority of the networks will no longer exist as their funding comes to an end. Sadly, the lifelong learning movement is not well known, despite the efforts of those involved to broadcast their achievements - and despite the esteem in which many of the networks are held regionally.

In these times of stringent cuts to the academy, it is unlikely that many establishments will be giving much thought to what happens to vocational learners. Although the Browne Review extols the virtues of part-time learners having access to loans and equity with full-time learners, it is debatable how many work-based learners would wish to burden themselves with the debt involved.

Within this changing landscape, the experience of the networks will be crucial. It would be foolish for institutions not to harness this expertise while they still can.

Jill Ward, Chair, Lifelong Learning National Directors' Forum.

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