Implementing the Augar report would help democratise education
“While the Augar report may be flawed, it does make some really important recommendations”
The Augar report was overdue. Not since 1963 had the Government ordered an examination into further and higher education. And while not all of Augar’s recommendations have been universally welcomed, the report does propose measures that aim to democratise education and transform access to learning for all adults.
Beyond the headline recommendations of lowering student fees and extending the period in which graduates repay them, the Augar’s report should be admired for offering a holistic approach to the challenges in adult education and exploring alternatives to traditional university qualifications that can meet the needs of the economy.
Successive governments have focused most of their attention on traditional qualifications from higher education providers to meet the needs of the economy. FE and vocational courses have, as a result, often been under-supported and gained a reputation as a lesser option for school leavers. The Augar report’s recommendation that £3bn in extra funds should be given to colleges and other vocational training providers annually, in addition to a one-off £1bn capital funding boost for a national network, is a positive step.
Besides the impact this scale of investment could have on those providers, the move sends a powerful signal; acknowledging as it does that there are alternatives to a linear passage through schooling which ends with graduation sometime around the age of 25. Ultimately, it recognises a ‘one size fits all’ education system is no longer suited to our times. And this fact is also understood by universities, who are themselves looking at innovative ways to meet the needs of adult learners.
Personally, I was most excited by Augar’s proposed lifelong learning loan allowance. Taken in combination with greater funding for further education, it speaks to the very real need to ensure we have a society equipped to meet the demands of an ever-changing world of work. Nesta’s The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030 report articulates this need in stark terms, cautioning that: “around one-tenth of the workforce are in occupations that are likely to grow as a percentage of the workforce and around one-fifth are in occupations that will likely shrink.”
“It speaks to the very real need to ensure we have a society equipped to meet the demands of an ever-changing world of work”
The Augar report recognises the need: “Employment patterns are changing fast with shorter job cycles and longer working lives requiring many people to reskill and upskill. We recommend the introduction of a lifelong learning loan allowance to be used at higher technical and degree level at any stage of an adult’s career for full and part-time students. To encourage retraining and flexible learning, we recommend that this should be available in modules where required. We intend that our proposals should facilitate transfer between different institutions and we make proposals for greater investment in so-called ‘second chance’ learning at intermediate levels.”
It is particularly encouraging that the report advocates for a modular approach and one that would facilitate the transfer of modules between institutions. Earlier this year, the European MOOC (massive open online courses) Consortium (EMC), of which FutureLearn is a member, launched its common microcredential framework (CMF) to create portable credentials for lifelong learners.
“It is particularly encouraging that the report advocates for a modular approach and one that would facilitate the transfer of modules between institutions”
The move was in response to demand from learners to develop new knowledge, skills and competencies from shorter, recognised and quality-assured courses, which can also be used to earn traditional university qualifications. The CMF establishes a framework for these goals to be achieved across Europe’s leading MOOC platforms and the universities within their networks, with the ambition to lay the foundations for a new international credential for universities to meet the needs of lifelong learners, globally.
It remains to be seen how much of the Augar report the incoming Prime Minister will implement. However, while the Augur report may be flawed, it does make some really important recommendations, the implementation of which would be a great cause for optimism for adult learners.
About the author: Mark Lester is the co-founder and Managing Director, Universities and Educational Partnerships at FutureLearn. Mark has been responsible for growing FutureLearn’s partnerships, which currently stands at over 150 leading research-intensive universities worldwide and specialist organisations such as Yad Vashem, the British Council and Cancer Research UK.