The Augar Review and Lifelong Learners: A UALL Response by Dr Alison Le Cornu
In principle, the interests of lifelong learners are more explicitly focused on in the Augar Review’s recommendations than they have been for decades. The Universities Association for Lifelong Learning notes:
- The abolition of ELQ (Equivalent or Lower Qualification) restrictions which have so hindered the ongoing study of adult, part-time learners;
- The introduction of a (Lifelong Learning) allowance intended to span qualifications at levels 4,5 and 6, and which can be accessed at various points over, potentially, a 40-year period (although this will be less for most adult learners);
- A more flexible form of study that includes greater modularisation, and a ‘step on step off’ structure attached to funding and linked to credit accumulation and transfer;
- A heightened emphasis on awards at levels 4 and 5, meaning that learners are encouraged to engage in HE study without an expectation that they are committing to doing a degree;
- A genuine concern for social mobility and widening participation;
- But at the same time, the cessation of funding for foundation years attached to degree courses, which has for many adult learners been an important means of entry to higher level study.
This vision of a more lifelong-learning-centred modus operandi, though laudable, has in-built challenges, especially for institutions who will be expected to cater for lifelong learners very possibly with a yet more reduced budget. (The recommendations the Review makes in relation to the loss of income HE Providers (HEPs) might suffer due to the reduction of tuition fees appear to depend on government good will, and measuring institutional ‘performance’ – with little indication of how that would be done. Certain institutions are also set to receive more substantial top up ‘direct teaching grants’ than others.)
- Modularisation has proved expensive and a general current trend is one of moving towards a more integrated programme of study;
- Lifelong Learning departments have been waning for many years and will require serious institutional investment if they are to rise to the task of delivering Augar’s vision; a similar and related point applies to the provision of study opportunities for part-time learners;
- Although a set of Credit Level Descriptors exists that can be used nationwide by students who want to step-off and step-back on to study, perhaps also changing institutions, credit accumulation and transfer has never gained the traction required to make this a seamless and straightforward process; familiar questions also re-emerge about the currency of previous study and the integrity of programmes of study leading to a named award.
It may be that Augar’s recommendations, if implemented, benefit those institutions which specialise in part-time, adult study and which already have the infrastructure in place to meet these challenges. That will be welcome. But lifelong learning is often a regional activity, with adult learners needing and wanting to engage with their local HEP; enrol on courses organised by that HEP together with their employer; and combine work, study and family commitments where they live. For these students, it is still difficult to see how the Augar Review’s recommendations will make a significant difference.