Glasgow bids for brains

December 25, 1998

Educationists can take little comfort from a MORI word-association survey among adult Glasgwegians. For 73 per cent, "education" was associated with "school"; for 43 per cent, it was "boring".

The word "training" did not fare much better. "Gaining new skills" was cited by 65 per cent, while 45 per cent associated it with "hard work" and 35 per cent with "computers". But the word "learning" was immediately associated with "discovering" (74 per cent) and "finding out more" (71 per cent), followed by "exchanging ideas/information with others", "enjoyment" and "personal growth". Only 9 per cent thought education had anything to do with enjoyment.

The Glasgow Development Agency is ensuring it gets the semantics right in a Pounds 5 million campaign to become one of Europe's "learning cities".

Stephanie Young, Scotland's first director of lifelong learning, said: "We have debates about the academic and the vocational, and what education and training mean. We would say education is a liberating experience and all about personal growth, but it's what the users think that actually matters, what turns them on and what they think about what we do that determines whether they're going to use us or not."

Ms Young would like to see the Scottish Parliament have a "minister for learning" to overcome the view that education is tied to school. The signal that learning was for all was particularly crucial for Glasgow, she said.

The city performs poorly national education and training statistics. While 45 per cent of young Scots go on to higher education, the figure is only 15 per cent in Glasgow, with some areas lower than 5 per cent. Once a major manufacturing centre, Glasgow still has many deprived areas. Its population of 600,000 accounts for 13 per cent of the Scottish total, but it has 20 per cent of the country's unemployment.

It is not all bad news. Ms Young said that a Fortune magazine survey has identified Glasgow as Europe's third-top business location after London and Paris.

She believes lifelong learning will strengthen social and economic cohesion, help people participate in their communities and make Glasgow a more attractive business location, with knock-on effects for the population's prosperity.

The campaign has the support of the Scottish Office, Glasgow City Council and 60 other organisations, including universities, colleges and schools.

It will begin with a joint inquiry conducted by business, the public sector, education and the community to find out how to stimulate people to learn and overcome barriers such as lack of interest, time and money.

About 500 people from such diverse backgrounds as housing, business, politics, schools and universities turned up at the launch of the strategy early this month. Volunteers are joining action groups that will look at a range of topics, such as campaigns to promote learning, literacy and numeracy, workforce development plans, funding, the role of learning for leisure, and measuring the impact of lifelong learning on vocational training.

The conveners of the action groups will form a steering group that will work with an advisory group of individuals and organisations.

"This is about getting action on the ground," Ms Young said. "The learning inquiry will run for up to three years. Groups will work at different paces depending on the complexity of their task. No one agency or sector has the answer."

The city's aim is to overtake UK participation levels by taking on 100,000 learners. Experts believe this will take 20 years to achieve. Ms Young wants to see it happen in five to ten years.

She hopes Glasgow's learning inquiry will come up with a new approach to qualifications. The poll found that 49 per cent of Glaswegians disagreed that the stress laid on gaining qualifications put them off learning, but a significant 32 per cent felt an emphasis on qualifications was a barrier.

"Qualifications are good for getting you over hurdles," said Ms Young. "But we rarely recruit people on their qualifications, rather on the basis of their ideas, opinions and experience."

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