Image of Woman with books in library

Government called on to help adults gain new skills

Ahead of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement later this month The Open University is calling for government to lift the funding restriction, in England, preventing adults from retraining with a second degree.

The Open University argues that extending tuition fee loans – particularly to adults wanting to study part-time for a second qualification in a new subject – would benefit individuals, employers and the economy. Since 2006/07, and following the ban introduced in England on loans for second degrees in 2008/09, the number of 31 to 60 year olds entering part-time higher education in England has dropped by 64% . This group accounts for approximately two thirds of the workforce in the UK and is vital to readdress its productivity and skills gaps.

Decline in traditional roles

There are more and more calls for an urgent focus on lifelong learning. Loans in England to study for second degrees would help address high-level skills shortages from within the existing workforce where the need is greatest. An Institute of Directors report highlights predictions that, with 15 million UK jobs vulnerable to automation over the next 20 years, many of those currently in jobs will need to retrain in order to remain in work . It concludes that if the UK is to build a competitive economy for the 21st century, a shift to lifelong learning will be crucial to ensuring UK workers have the skills they need to succeed in the new world of work.

Study will unlock potential for multiple careers

Peter Horrocks, The Open University’s Vice Chancellor, believes that expanding opportunities for working adults who already have a degree could have a dramatic impact on the UK’s productivity.

One solution to our lacklustre productivity is to use further study to unlock the potential of an ageing and diverse workforce and develop higher skills. More people than ever before are expected to be working longer and have multiple careers in their lifetime. We believe that the right support from government, business and the education sector can reshape our economy to make it resilient enough to face future challenges.

“Official estimates predict that in the next 30 years there will be 13 million UK vacancies but only 7 million school leavers to fill them. With around 9 in 10 of today’s UK workforce still of working age in the next 10 years, demand for higher level skills is expected to grow significantly."

“Government needs to increase productivity urgently. Loans for second degrees would provide incentives for adults in England to boost or change their careers during longer working lives – and increase their earnings. Government help now for adults to gain new skills is a win-win for all.”