The issue of funding cuts and the impact they are having on the quality of education in the UK is a discussion that continues to rumble on. Naturally, the focus tends to be on how schools are affected. However, in today’s world the need for lifelong learning is increasingly important, and funding is vital to all aspects of education, such as adult education.

Too often when it comes to education the focus is on school performance and on universities. Important as these key areas are, adult education at below degree level is equally important. The number of adults in the UK with poor literacy and numeracy skills is worryingly high, and the impact that this has on society is wide-reaching.

Business leaders call for investment in adult education

In a recent speech, Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the CBI, called on the government to invest more in skills and colleges below degree level. The clear argument is that even fairly modest investment in literacy and numeracy skills is likely to deliver considerable benefits.

An obvious sign of the impact of Brexit is that employers are now more vocal in their concerns about education, skills shortages and the fall in the number of skilled EU nationals who now want to work in the UK. Business leaders are increasingly worried that is only going to become more difficult for employers to recruit and retain people with the skills they need. Add to this the ever-increasing emphasis that the notion of lifelong learning is given in the workplace and you can see why investment in adult education is absolutely critical.

Post-18 funding review exposes imbalance in funding

The government’s post-18 education and funding review has laid bare the stark imbalance that exists in education funding post-18. The 2018 Education Report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies showed that total investment in higher education is £17.2 billion. This essentially funds around 50% of adults to go through higher education before the age of 30.

In sharp contrast, the AEB (Adult Education Budget) – the funding that has to meet the needs of the other half of the adult population, who don’t enter higher education at degree level – and the apprenticeship budget combined is just £3 billion.

£17 billion versus £3 billion doesn’t appear to be a level playing field. And the massive disparity is all the more concerning when you take into consideration recent projections of educational attainment across countries. These suggest that by 2030, the UK will have slipped from 11th to 14th in numeracy skills, and to 14th from 10th in literacy out of 17 OECD countries.

There have been calls for immediate investment of £1.9 billion to be injected annually by government and employers. This would restore many of the cuts that have occurred since 2010. However, investment of this type would go much further than this. It would actually boost the UK economy to the tune of £20 billion per year and would support as much as an additional 200,000 people into work. The various knock-on effects should not be underestimated either. Health and well-being would be improved. Productivity would be given a much-needed boost – as would tax receipts.

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