Last summer, the Liberal Party announced that it had put together a Commission on Lifelong Learning. This followed a conference speech by party leader Vince Cable in autumn 2017, backing the widely-discussed idea of a national system of learning accounts, accessible at any stage of life. This in itself followed the Party’s manifesto commitment in the 2017 election to an ambitious expansion in adult learning, including those famous learning accounts.
Chaired by Rajay Naik, a prominent specialist in marketing higher education and formerly Director of Government and External Affairs at the Open University, the Commission was supposed to flesh out these bold ideas. It was launched with the promise that the membership and timescale would be announced in weeks, with the formal consultation process following ‘shortly’ afterwards. The membership was revealed in June 2018, with a number of high profile individuals in its ranks, including Stephen Evans from the Learning and Work Institute, Ruth Spellman from the Workers Educational Association, Matthew Taylor from the Royal Society for the Arts, and Polly Mackenzie, of the think tank Demos.
Since then, I’ve seen and heard nothing further. Of course Cable has announced his plans to retire, and his Party – as the only organised parliamentary expression of support for the European Union – has its hands full. And this year yet another group has established its own commission on adult learning, with Ruth Spellman once again among the members, so we’re not facing a sudden dearth of commissions and reports. Still, it’s a pity if the Liberal Democrats have lost interest in lifelong learning as a result.
Unlike some of my chums, who see the Liberal Democrats as a marginal, I think their views matter. Quite apart from their possible role in any future coalition, they have significant influence in local government, and they can help shape public debate. Further, the idea of learning accounts is worth exploring, and any constructive thinking should be welcome to policy makers of any colour. Creating a lifelong learning commission attracted press publicity and generated hope. Is anyone in a position to say whether it still exists, and if so what it is doing?