From adult to higher education: how should it work?

“From adult to higher education: how should it work?”, Let’s Go Further Podcast, Series 3, Ep 5

In episode 5 of Let’s Go Further Joe Mcloughlin speaks to Emma Beal, Principal and Chief Executive of Northern College, and Lord Blunkett, former Secretary of State and Education to discuss the challenges and opportunities for adult education and its policy future. Both guests have had lived experience of the benefits of adult education as well as being heavily involved in the sector throughout their careers. 

Throughout this episode our panel discuss adult, further and higher education and the need for greater continuity between these sectors. Higher education refers to undergraduate or other diploma level study and above, while further education describes any post-secondary education below a diploma level. Adult education encompasses all study for all people over 19 years old at any level or in any institution. 

The three begin by discussing the work of Northern College, and its unique status as the only adult residential college in the North of England. Emma details the benefits of residential learning which allow adults to take a timeout from the pressures that come along with adulthood and focus on learning. She praises the college for its small, personalised approach and discusses their partnership with the University of Huddersfield and Sheffield Hallam University.  

Joe then widens the conversation to discuss how and why adults have become neglected from education. Lord Blunkett argues that from 2012 the government has been “underinvesting in every possible area of life” and failing to appreciate that the development of infrastructure is undermined when the professional and personal skills of adults are neglected. Adding to this Blunkett argues that the lack of adult education leaves the workforce and wider society ill-equipped to tackle the challenges presented by climate change, housing, social care and the aging population.   

Echoing this sentiment Emma argues that the current separation of work and life skills is counterproductive and leads to a “money-in, money-out mentality” rather than investing in the overall development and wellbeing of adults. She also highlights that there are not enough adults who have been through adult education involved in the decision-making process and policy formation, which leads to the subject being sidelined.  

The conversation then turns to the social barriers that adults face to accessing further or higher education. Emma details the socioeconomic barriers that specific communities face to accessing education and focuses on the need for mental health services to work better with education.  

Rounding up the conversation, the three turn to the future of adult education policy ahead of next year’s general election. Emma makes the case that investing in the education of adults has a generational impact for society as it will minimises the barriers for their children and grandchildren to access education.  

She and Lord Blunkett both argue for a greater connection between health care and education so that education can be prescribed rather than drugs to solve mental health challenges and wider social issues.  

The benefits of adult education are encapsulated by Lord Blunkett who argues:  

“This is about a transformation in the life chances, the mental health well-being, the self-confidence, and aspiration of adults who may or may not have lost out completely the first time round.” 

Lord Blunkett, Let’s Go Further (Nov 2023)

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The Let’s Go Further Podcast is produced by the Skills and Education Group in collaboration with Research Podcasts and is published fortnightly.  

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Freya Peake, Research and Administration Assistant at Research Podcasts

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