08 Nov 2012

Open University partners with Workers Educational Association

The Open University (OU) and the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) yesterday announced a new strategic partnership, with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, that will remove barriers to adults wishing to enter further or higher education by providing practical training and freely available learning resources.

The partnership brings together two national organisations with a combined total of over 150 years’ experience in delivering adult education. Both are committed to increasing participation by adults in learning by researching their needs and creating learning pathways that raise aspiration and progression and by targeting those learners who are on low incomes and whose previous education level is below that traditionally required for University entry.

The current economic climate has already started to squeeze an entire generation of adults out of education with recent evidence suggesting an increasing detachment from formal learning. The National Adult Learner Survey 2010, released in October this year by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), showing that adult participation in all categories of learning in the last three years has declined by 11 per cent since 2005. Meanwhile research from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) released in September suggested that there had been a further four per cent reduction in adult education participation since 2010.

The new partnership seeks to reverse this trend, by identifying the common problems facing adults who want to return to education and seeking to understand how potential students can be encouraged to gain the new skills and training they need to further their employment prospects, a particularly important activity in times of economic downturn.

The partnership will also see WEA students using the OU’s wide range of OpenLearn resources. In return, the WEA has developed a range of community health education resources which can be converted into an online learning resource for both OU and WEA students. These will help health providers develop preventive strategies for conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.

WEA Chief Executive, Ruth Spellman, said: “In recent years we have seen an increase in social inequality and a decline in social mobility. This can only be addressed if people have access to the education services that enable them to reach their full potential. While it is important young people are supported, many adults find it difficult to get work despite having up to another 40 years until retirement.”

Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, said: “If we’re going to get Britain’s economy back on track, we have to make sure that workers of all ages have the skills they need to compete – it’s not enough just to focus on 18-year-old school leavers. I’m delighted that the OU and WEA will be working together to open up higher education to an even wider range of adult learners, helping to make that vision a reality.”

The OU and WEA will promote links through their websites and plan to develop future campaigns together on widening participation and on the importance of education for the UK.

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