FACE Conference 2007

Author/Producer Bill Rammell / ESCalate
Published in ESCalate news (Autumn 2007)
Date Published 23 October 2007
Pages 4


Bill Rammell's speech written for the FACE conference 2007


When he prepared his speech for the FACE Conference in June, Bill Rammell was Minister of State at the Department for Education and Skills. The day he was meant to speak to us, he was called away to his new post with responsibility for Lifelong Learning.

A conference title of “social justice and lifelong learning” is music to my ears because I am determined that everyone should have the opportunity to benefit from learning, no matter what their background.

And I am equally determined that the benefits of lifelong learning and the opportunities to participate in higher education should be widely broadcast so that people who might never have considered that they could extend their education and consequently their life chances are encouraged to do so.

So I’m delighted to support this event and to have the chance to say a big thank you to all of you and your colleagues who are playing such a vital role in making lifelong learning a reality.

I welcome the aims of FACE: “to support and encourage a socially inclusive framework for lifelong learning, challenging exclusion and fostering full participation”.

Over the next two or three days you’re going to be thinking about diversity, globalization, and transformation in the context of social justice and lifelong learning. I’d like to focus on diversity. Diversity of the student population, diversity of routes into higher education, and diversity of curriculum and delivery of learning.

I was pleased to hear that the University of East London ran a workshop this morning for the English partners of the England-Africa Partnerships scheme. The Department for Education and Skills has invested £3 million to support higher education partnerships between England and Sub-Saharan Africa. This is an excellent opportunity for HE Institutions in England to engage in international partnerships and alliances which contribute to the capacity building and development of higher education in Sub-Saharan Africa.

HE Institutions in England have a great deal of expertise to share. They also have a great deal to gain and learn from this type of collaboration.

You’ll be discussing this and other international issues during this conference. The benefits of international students coming to the UK, and the diversity of the student population that this creates, are enormous. Not only the additional generation of fee income for HE Institutions, but also the important contribution of international students to the UK’s knowledge economy, the enrichment of our society by deepening our awareness and understanding of other cultures, and the long-lasting relationships that we develop, providing potential for greater educational, cultural and scientific exchange, as well as greater trade, investment and political influence.

UK students studying abroad can benefit enormously from an understanding of the culture of other countries and the ability to speak another language. Increasingly, employers are telling us that language capability can make the difference in securing contracts overseas.

As globalization increases, our students will find that a period of study or work abroad is a valuable experience, allowing them to gain understanding of their cultures and providing them with transferable skills, enhancing their employability. Increasing student mobility is key if our students are to be able to compete in the global market. Schemes like ERASMUS and the Chinese Summer school programme help provide opportunities for our students to gain those skills.

The make-up of the UK student population is, I’m pleased to say, becoming more diverse. The HE performance indicators that are published annually tell us that the number of students from poorer backgrounds going to university has risen steadily. But progress is slow. Last July the performance indicators showed a disappointing levelling-off of progress. That tells us that we need to do more.

And the review of widening participation activities that I asked HEFCE to carry out last year showed that, whilst real progress is being made in embedding widening participation in all HE institutions, there were steps that could be taken to maximise the impact of outreach activities.

I value enormously the contribution of the Aimhigher programme and the hard work of local Aimhigher partnerships, and have said so many times. I still maintain, though, that we need to do more. We need to do more to maximise the results of the Government’s investment – over £550 million over the last six years on widening participation activities. And we need to do more to increase even further the successes of Aimhigher partnerships.

That’s why HEFCE published guidance in May about effective ways to target outreach activity at people from backgrounds currently under-represented in higher education. The guidance refines the definition of the target cohort for Aimhigher and other outreach activity; describes how the targeting process might be made more effective; and provides a steer on how to measure the effectiveness of targeting.

I hope that will result in widening and increasing participation even further by young people from socially deprived areas or from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The latest UCAS figures again showed a rise in the proportion of applicants from England who are from the bottom four socio-economic groups. That’s good news. I hope we will see a similar picture when this year’s performance indicators are published, later this month.

Access to higher education opens up a world of possibilities. To help everyone achieve their potential we must increase – and diversify access routes to HE for everyone – so that they are not only open to 18 year olds leaving school or college with A levels, but so that there are clear pathways too for people who may be attracted to applied or non-traditional learning routes, for people in work and for those who may be returning to learning some time after completing their compulsory education.

This is where the contribution of Lifelong Learning Networks is critical enabling colleges, HE Institutions and others to work together to develop, promote and manage a range of non-traditional routes into HE.

We want Lifelong Learning Networks to

· provide support for learners on vocational pathways;

· help develop the curriculum to facilitate progression;

· ensure learners have access to a range of progression opportunities, so that they can move between different kinds of learning programmes as their interests, needs and abilities develop.

The Government’s 14-19 reforms are about ensuring that education and training provision prepares all young people for life and work. This provision will motivate and engage young people, preparing them for life by giving them the knowledge, skills and attitudes they need to succeed.

The reforms are designed to encourage more young people to take the learning and development path that is right for them – learning for longer and gaining the qualifications they need to progress into higher education, further education, or employment.

By extending the range of learning opportunities available to young people, the reforms offer the opportunity to choose a mix of learning styles and content that is right for them.

The new Diplomas are a powerful mix of practical and theoretical learning. They will appeal as much to students preparing to enter the workforce at 18, as to those planning to continue their studies at university or who are uninspired by a solely academic curriculum.

Support from the FE sector in terms of delivering this and other reforms at the ground-level is key; but no one institution will be able to deliver the reforms on its own. Colleges, schools and local providers must work together to ensure their success.

And it’s crucial that Higher Education Institutions continue to become involved and able to play their part in influencing the development of the Diplomas.

This will ensure that students wanting to enter HE with this new qualification have the knowledge and skills required for higher-level study; that HEIs are aware of the impact Diplomas will have on their own programmes and are able to adapt their curricula as needed; that HEIs will be willing to accept the new qualifications and that this is reflected in their entry requirements.

And we are determined to increase the numbers of people qualified to at least Level 3, including those who didn’t achieve this level during their compulsory education.

From August this year we’ll be introducing a new entitlement to free tuition for 19 to 25 year olds taking their first full Level 3 qualification. We anticipate that the new entitlement will benefit around 60,000 learners in 2007/08. And we are extending the Adult Learning Grant to full national coverage from September to help eligible adults who are on a low income to meet the additional costs of learning.

I was pleased to attend the launch of the Quality Assurance Agency’s new Access to Higher Education Diploma last month. Access courses make an important contribution to lifelong learning and to our drive to widen participation in higher education. They offer an invaluable second chance for people who may have thought they had lost their opportunity.

And I hope that the work that the Joint Forum for Higher Levels is doing to develop a common approach to credit in Further and Higher Education will come to fruition. I think it is vital that we align the approaches of higher and further education to credit, to help learners to progress from further to higher education, and to enable them to do so as smoothly as possible.

I’ve talked about just a few of the measures that we’re taking to encourage lifelong learning, to raise attainment levels, and to create alternative pathways into higher education.

As a result of these measures and the hard work of all of you and your colleagues, we are seeing a changing student population. More people from backgrounds with no tradition of HE; increasing numbers of students with part-time jobs or caring responsibilities; and increasing numbers of part-time students who also have busy, full-time jobs.

That’s very encouraging. But it means that Higher Education Institutions need to offer more flexible and diverse learning patterns.

Let me stress my appreciation of the overwhelmingly high quality and standards of higher education in the UK. It’s an international success story and that international recognition is supported by generally good ratings from UK students in the National Student Survey – over 80% satisfied or very satisfied with their own HE experience.

However, and at risk of making a sweeping generalisation, I would assert that HEIs have not – on the whole – really changed their product to suit a more diverse range of customers. I’d like to borrow an analogy from Baroness Deech, who likened an HEI to a gym

· which needs to provide the best possible facilities, making them available how, where and when they are needed;

· which needs to provide good training and support from well qualified instructors;· which needs commitment and the input of active participants;

· where participants will only learn and improve if they make the best use of the facilities and input of the trainers; and

· where a good relationship between participants and trainers is essential.

Good mentoring and support for students is becoming even more important given the busy lives of many students and an increasingly diverse student population. It’s important to ensure that students get the maximum benefit from their HE experience, so that their own lifelong learning continues through and beyond HE and also so that they can recommend higher education to their families and friends, helping to raise aspirations especially amongst those who might not otherwise consider HE as an option.

We are also going to be looking for increased, effective use of new technology for blended learning, flexibility in start dates and duration, provision outside “nine to five”, new locations, outside the main campus and physically nearer to students in some areas, and excitement and innovation to capture the imagination of students.

Of course change takes time. But we’re already seeing innovative delivery – the success of Foundation Degrees showed that HEIs can work directly with employer organisations and deliver a quality HE product with employer input; provision of HE in FE can be very beneficial to those moving on from FE rather than school and who prefer to live at home; and HEFCE is funding flexibility projects to explore two year degrees and changes to academic years.

Increasingly I’m sure we will see real partnership between HEIs and students – as well as employers. We’ll see more responsiveness and innovation in HE while maintaining high standards and good quality products for learners. We’ll see learners being properly supported so that they can make best use of their HE experience and maximise their potential. And more people will be encouraged to follow those learners and extend their own lifelong learning.

I am grateful to you all for your contributions towards achieving social justice through lifelong learning and opening up HE to those for whom its doors have been closed in the past.

I hope that the rest of your conference goes well.

The 2007 FACE conference organised by Continuum at the University of East London took place from the 2nd to the 4th July;

ESCalate was one of the conference partners. The event attracted some 220 delegates from as far away as The Republic of the Marshall Islands, South Africa, Australia, USA, Canada and mainland Europe as well as from all parts of the UK. The conference, entitled Social Justice and Lifelong Learning: Diversity, Globalisation, Transformation attracted a record number of very high quality workshops, the papers from which will form the basis of the conference publication.

Bill Rammell contributed a key speech which highlighted major policy areas around the conference title indicating the progress made, particularly in relation the conference theme of diversity. Alan Tuckett, Director of NIACE and Nicola Dandridge, Director of the Equality Challenge Unit, both contributed major keynote speeches as did Professor Roy du Pre, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Vaal University of Technology, South Africa.

In addition to the excellent workshops and keynotes there were also three Roundtable Sessions which focused on Aimhigher, Lifelong Learning Networks and International Developments in Access and Lifelong Learning. To complement the serious conference business there was a vibrant social programme providing lots of networking opportunities.Next year’s FACE conference 2-4 July with the title Challenging Isolation: the role of lifelong learning is being hosted by York St John University.Further details at www.yorksj.ac.uk/face2008