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Lifelong learning is the key to unlocking Wales’ full potential

16 December 2021

Lifelong learning should be a key focus for Wales’ Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CTER), according to a report from Cardiff University.

The study, by the Wales Centre for Public Policy (WCPP), calls for enhanced rights and entitlements to education, training and community learning; supported by career advice at key life change points as well as more targeted government funding.

The researchers say these measures will help tackle economic challenges including Wales’ low productivity performance, high rates of economic inactivity and contribute to increased health and wellbeing.

The report aims to inform policy decisions and support the implementation of the CTER, which will be established as part of the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill 2021.

Dr Helen Tilley, Senior Research Fellow at the Wales Centre for Public Policy, said: "The Tertiary Education Bill brings together higher education, further education and adult learning under a single regulatory body for the first time in Wales. This provides an opportunity to embed new ways of collaborative working across and between institutions, the Commission and Welsh Government to best meet the needs of individuals, society and the economy.

"Our report shows how a focus on lifelong learning is crucial to meeting such needs, which are constantly evolving due to events like Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic and the climate emergency. Technological advances in AI and automation as well as longer working lives among the general population mean there is a greater need for retraining as people’s skills become outdated."

The researchers analysed existing data on lifelong learning outcomes, consulted with sector experts, convened a panel of policymakers and other stakeholders, and held a roundtable with Welsh Government.

They found basic skills among adults in Wales compared poorly to the rest of the UK, with data showing nearly a quarter of adults are without a level 2 qualification - equivalent to a GCSE at grades A*-C - and over half do not have the essential digital skills they need for work.

Participation in adult education is also in decline, a trend which could broaden long-standing challenges in adult literacy and skills deficits, the researchers warn.

Study lead Dr Susan Pember CBE, Policy Director for HOLEX, said: "At a time of significant economic and social challenges including climate change and the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, lifelong learning has never been more important for Wales.

"Our report highlights how Wales can build a lifelong learning system fit for the future while addressing existing issues such as legacy skills gaps. This will require a co-ordinated approach that goes beyond the education sector alone but is instead delivered together with a network of local partnerships including community organisations and the voluntary sector, private providers, and local government."

In order to increase take-up of lifelong learning, researchers say government funding should be made available to groups most in need of financial support, such as those with poor essential skills; 16-18 year olds; unemployed people and those at risk of redundancy.

Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, said: "I welcome this report, and am grateful for the work that has gone into its development. We are committed to expanding lifelong learning in Wales, and its promotion will be one of the strategic duties of the new Commission.

"We will consider the recommendations within the report and look at how they can inform our work to increase the number of adults learning in Wales, along with the implementation of our Tertiary Education and Research Bill, and the establishment of the Commission."

Read the report, Supporting the Welsh Lifelong Learning System.

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