Scots promised a radical review of lifelong learning

July 13, 2001

The Scottish Parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee has pledged the most fundamental review of post-compulsory education and training since the Robbins report nearly 40 years ago.

The cross-party committee, chaired by Scottish National Party MSP Alex Neil, aims to draw up a blueprint for lifelong learning for the next 15 years.

Mr Neil said: "It will be comprehensive and radical. We're looking at (lifelong learning) from the foundations and not just from the point of view of tinkering."

The review will assess how much duplication, confusion and overlap exists, and how this can be reduced. It will investigate how the worlds of work, education and training can be better integrated to promote lifelong learning.

It will also consider whether funding is meeting Scotland's economic and social needs.

The committee will look this summer at a series of case studies, including the pioneering Universities of the Highlands and Islands Millennium Institute and the Crichton campus in south-west Scotland, which are blurring the divide between higher and further education.

An interim report will come out in December, with a conference in February and a final report in March.

Mr Neil said the review was taking place with the "acquiescence and encouragement" of enterprise and lifelong learning minister Wendy Alexander, who would not finalise her lifelong learning strategy until the committee reports.

A key concern will be whether there needs to be a funding shake-up to promote wider access.

The committee believes there are three categories of student: those who get on, those who get by and those who get nowhere. Most support goes to the first and little or nothing to the last.

Mr Neil stressed the need to maintain academic excellence. But while Scotland was spending more than £1 billion annually on education and training, it had "dire" skills shortages alongside unemployment and underemployment. "We really have a free rein to do what we think is right for Scotland. We intend to make maximum use of that to be innovative in our thinking."

The committee had already shown that the "new politics" in Scotland could work, Mr Neil said. Its first convener, John Swinney, now leader of the SNP, had worked closely with former lifelong learning minister Henry McLeish, now Scotland's first minister.

"(They) demonstrated that the committee system can be an effective, non-partisan force for creating enlightened, inclusive, evidence-based policy initiatives," Mr Neil said. "Assuming we come out with a unanimous report, it would mean every major party is signed up to the agenda."

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