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‘The need for education throughout life is more critical now than it has ever been’

Today marks 100 years since the Ministry of Reconstruction’s adult education committee published its Report on Adult Education. The Centenary Commission on Adult Education 2019 has produced a new report, A Permanent National Necessity, that argues adult education and lifelong learning must be a permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship. This is vital to addressing the huge societal divisions and challenges to democracy currently faced.

Changing landscapes lifelong learning can tackle

The challenges identified in the new report include the climate crisis; communities more divided than in living memory, with many feeling excluded from today’s politics; and artificial intelligence threatening to disrupt jobs and permanently alter the nature of work forever.

Funding for adult learning and apprenticeships has also fallen by 45 per cent in real terms since 2009-10, cutting adult education participation dramatically. Today’s report calls for:

  • A national Adult Education & Lifelong Learning Strategy, with a participation target to reduce the gap between the most and least educationally active.
  • A Minister with specific responsibility for Adult Education and Lifelong Learning to report annually to Parliament on progress.
  • Community Learning Accounts, alongside Individual Learning Accounts to provide funding for informal, community-based learning initiatives led by local groups.
Head and shoulders photograph of woman

Dame Helen Ghosh, Master of Balliol College, Oxford and Chair of the Commission

High profile support for lifelong learning


Dame Helen Ghosh, Master of Balliol College, Oxford, and Chair of the Commission, said: “There is a national consensus in favour of adult education and lifelong learning. We need the next government to step up to the challenge, and deliver what is, in the words of the 1919 Report and today’s report.

“In meetings across the country our Commission found a huge appetite for adult education and lifelong learning – we saw evidence of communities being brought together through imaginative educational initiatives; new groups being formed to analyse and discuss the issues of the day, including the climate crisis; and a desire to understand and prepare for the changing world of work, including amongst those in the ‘gig economy’ for whom provision at present is scant. Our Commission’s recommendations would address all these needs.”


Tim Blackman

Professor Tim Blackman ready to lead The Open University

Professor Tim Blackman, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, said,” As one of the largest providers of adult education in the UK we know how vital the recommendations are in this report. Our world is changing rapidly. The need for education throughout life is more critical now than it has ever been.

“We face growing challenges from climate change, automation and mass movement of people. Providing access to education for everyone, not just those under 18 years, has enormous potential to help us all.

“Embedding a lifelong learning culture is imperative. It needs to be based on policies that make learning affordable, flexible and open to all.”

‘Transforming and embedding adult education’

The Chief Economist of the Bank of England and OU honorary graduate Andy Haldane welcomed the report, saying: “This report contains powerful and compelling recommendations for transforming and embedding adult education. It is an ambitious blueprint, but circumstances today and especially tomorrow call for no less. For three centuries, the UK’s education system has had a singular – and very successful – focus: developing cognitive skills in the young.

“That model is not fit for tomorrow’s purpose. The education system of tomorrow needs to span the generational spectrum – young to old – and the skills spectrum – cognitive to vocational to interpersonal. The economic benefits of doing so are crystal clear. The social and civic benefits are greater still. Social problems of disadvantage, disconnection and division loom large – adult education is one means of tackling those three Ds at source.”

Photograph of a man

The Chief Economist of the Bank of England and OU honorary graduate Andy Haldane

100 years of adult education

The 1919 Report provided a template under which adult education, oriented towards building a democratic and tolerant civil society, flourished through most of the 20th century. Adult education – committed to enriching the communities where people live and work – constituted a vital, if often unacknowledged, part of the social fabric. The 1919 report is available online.

About Author

Rachel is Senior Manager, Media Relations team. She is a skilled communicator with more than ten years’ experience in Public Relations. She holds a BA (Hons) Media Production from the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside. Rachel specialises in stories from the Faculty of Business and Law, students, academic research, BBC programmes, technology, innovation and skills. Rachel has three large dogs, two children and enjoys growing her own veg.

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