Published: 30th September 2020 (3 Min Read)

Having written on Monday that Rishi Sunak had omitted to make a commitment to re-training in his Job Support Scheme[i], I woke up yesterday to hear that Boris Johnson is enhancing an existing scheme.[ii]

At a time when back benchers are complaining about not being consulted, I was pleased to have such a quick response! If only life was really like that!

The Prime Minister said a new “lifetime skills guarantee” would offer a fully funded college course to all people over 18 in England without an A-level or equivalent qualification. Currently, only people aged under 23 qualify for a fully funded qualification at this level, but the age cap will now be lifted.

The commitment will be paid for under an already announced £2.5bn boost to England’s National Skills Fund coming into effect next April. It would be helpful to see additional financial support, and sadly any additional money will not be available before April next year, while jobs are already being lost.

A practical reason for a delay is that funding will be offered for courses offering “skills valued by employers”, with the full list to be announced next month, but some acceleration is surely merited.

The Prime Minister added that the government would make higher education loans more flexible, to allow people to “space out their study across their lifetimes”.[iii] The Chancellor might like to consider whether, given the employment changes long underway, he should give grants rather than loans to ensure a good take-up.

We really need a continued bolstering of the Government’s educational budget to equip young people for their careers and to re-equip older people for surviving workplace changes.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies reported positive changes ahead for school spending recently[iv]: “The government has allocated an extra £7.1 billion for schools in England through to 2022–23. This will increase spending per pupil by 9% in real terms between 2019–20 and 2022–23 If we account for expected increases in teacher pay, the real-terms increase in spending per pupil will be lower, at 6%.”

This follows a decade of spending cuts but is a welcome change.

The Government also needs to work out how to help university students. Great steps forward have been made in online education, but proper and effective education needs face-to-face time. The quality of education has clearly been affected by the pandemic, and while rebates to fees would undermine university finances some loan forgiveness would reflect the sub-par delivery of education in recent months and reduce the financial burden of early years in employment, when the job market has been impaired.

This all reflects the growing need for lifelong education, and the Government needs to address this more thoroughly if post-Brexit Britain is to thrive.

The growth in education spending globally substantially exceeds economic growth, and for the rich world is both a competitive challenge and an investment opportunity. It is at least in part supported by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4[v], to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, which is an objective supported by our “Sustainable Portfolio Service”[vi].