A new learning culture in which individuals and employers take more responsibility for education and training is the vision behind the Government's new Lifetime Learning paper, said education and employment minister James Paice this week.
The paper, launched on Tuesday and trumpeted as the first major collaborative work of the new Department for Education and Employment, was designed to promote a customer-driven culture of learning and updating knowledge which would benefit society as well as boosting skills, Mr Paice said.
But there was no expectation or guarantee that it would lead to new policies. "I believe the raising of the debate is essential if we are to promote these cultures. If you go and talk to the average businessman they will not have thought about the things in this document," he said.
The Government was hoping that by combining education and training initiatives in a single document, together with a few new ideas, individuals and business leaders would look at learning opportunities "with a new set of eyes", he added.
But political opponents were quick to point out that the 61-page document, which invites responses by February 26, contains very little that is new. It reviews the Government's national education and training targets; initiatives such as Investors in People, employee development schemes, and national training awards; vocational qualifications; core skills; and student support. But apart from three paragraphs briefly introducing the idea of individual training accounts, already floated in last year's competitiveness White Paper, the paper is short on fresh material.
Bryan Davies, Labour's further and higher education spokesman, said the paper compared unfavourably with the European Commission's recently-published proposals for lifetime learning.
Alan Tuckett, director of NIACE, the national organisation for adult learning which was holding its annual conference this week, welcomed the paper but predicted its proposals would fail to reach those yet to be convinced that learning is for them.