Centenary commission on adult education holds first meeting

The Co-operative College took part in the meeting

A commission marking the centenary of the 1919 Report on Adult Education is looking at ways to meet 21st century challenges such as globalisation, demographic shifts and the changing nature of work.

The commission, which held its first meeting last Thursday (10 January) at Balliol College, Oxford, includes Dr Cilla Ross, vice principal of the Co-operative College, alongside representatives from the Raymond Williams Foundation, the WEA, and the Universities of Nottingham and Oxford.

It is chaired by Dame Helen Ghosh, Master of Balliol College, Oxford, who said: “I was very honoured to be invited to chair this centenary commission, stepping into the shoes of a former master of Balliol, A.L. Smith, who was chair of the committee that produced the 1919 Report.

“Balliol and its masters have a long and proud record in supporting adult education, including the foundation of the Workers Educational Association in 1903 and hosting summer schools from the 1870s, which became the annual Oxford University Summer Schools for Adults, which are still going strong.”

She added: “There are eerie parallels between the problems of 1919 and those of 2019, making a powerful case for a new commission to look at the challenges. My own work as a civil servant on a variety of local regeneration programmes convinced me that learning at every stage of life is key to economic security, happiness and health and to creating a society in which everyone can flourish.”

In 2016 the Office for National Statistics carried out an Adult Education Survey with individuals in England aged 19 and over who had not been in continuous full-time education or who had returned to full-time education following a break of more than two years. The survey found that individuals aged 19 to 24 were most likely to engage in any learning (89%) compared to all other age groups and respondents holding a degree or equivalent as their highest educational attainment were most likely to have undertaken any type of learning.

The commission is part of a broader ‘Adult Education 100’ Campaign, whose patrons include actor Michael Sheen; Baroness Joan Bakewell, president of Birkbeck University of London; Mary Beard, professor of classics at the University of Cambridge; and Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England.

Mr Haldane said: “Never has the need for life-long learning been greater, given longer lifespans and a greater volatility in career paths. At present universities do not appear to be meeting these needs. By and large, they are not currently configured as centres for life-long learning. And nor, in the main, are they providing a balanced educational offering of cognitive, technical and social skills.

“To meet the needs of the future world of work, that might need to change. The importance of a broad-based education is likely to be greater than ever. This might criss-cross disciplinary boundaries, as one way of increasing people’s ability to make giant logical leaps. Those skills will be social and technical every bit as much as cognitive, with head, hands and hearts sharing equal billing.

“The future university may need to be a very different creature than in the past. It may need to cater for multiple entry points along the age distribution, rather than focusing on the young.”

Simon Parkinson, chief executive and principal of the Co-operative College, added: “We are delighted to be involved in this vital project which comes at a time when the need for adult education has never been greater. With a number of challenges on the horizon, including the ever changing nature of the world of work, we’re confident that co-operatives can lend a powerful voice and expertise to what is undoubtedly a matter of national importance.”