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There is never going to be a bricks-and-mortar offering of higher education in every coastal town

Today, the House of Lords Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities published a report called: The future of seaside towns. The report looks at the issues, challenges and opportunities these communities face in several areas with education and skills a key part. Professor Ian Fribbance, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, reports…

Back in November I gave oral evidence to this committee citing how The Open University could be part of the solution to the issues that people face in coastal communities when it comes to education and employment.

As we stressed in our submission, significantly fewer people from seaside towns and coastal communities can access higher education than those in other parts of England. There’s been a 27% decline in the number of people in coastal constituencies accessing HE since 2011/12. Ninety per cent of this is down to the collapse in part-time HE, which declined by 64%.

Flexible access must be part of the solution

The committee agrees with me that there is never going to be a bricks-and-mortar offering of higher education in every coastal town. There must be greater scope for flexible access both to further and higher education, such as online, part-time and distance learning, this must therefore be part of the solution.

They rightly recommend here that the Government produces ambitious proposals for how it can best support and encourage flexible access as part of its review of Post-18 Education and Funding.

The report also finds, “Limited access to education, in particular to FE and HE institutions is severely curtailing opportunities and denting aspirations for young people in some coastal areas.” This is a common theme in the report, access, and how the lack of access to both FE and HE leads to low aspirations.

The importance of partnerships

In evidence, I mentioned the importance of partnerships between universities, FE colleges and local employers as a way of increasing access to learning. It is heartening to see the committee recommend that the Government supports partnership working between the FE and HE sectors and local business and industry in coastal and other isolated areas – all creating the much-needed “talent pipeline” that can serve local industries.

The committee also recommends that the Government urgently examines the causes of the skills shortages in coastal towns. Here, again, The Open University can play a crucial role in providing flexible learning opportunities in these seaside towns and communities so that people don’t need to leave to learn.

By Professor Ian Fribbance

About Author

Kath works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She is a skilled communicator with more than 15 years’ experience working in both the public and private sectors. She has a BA (Hons) English and American Literature from University of Warwick and specialises in stories from the Faculty of Social Science, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, BBC programmes, and student stories. In her spare time Kath enjoys touring the country in her hand-painted camper van, Trevor.

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