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President of Birkbeck University, Baroness Joan Bakewell is set to call for major changes in the education system to give “so-called skivers” a chance to learn.

Baroness Bakewell is due to give the keynote speech at the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) biennial conference in Cambridge on Friday 11 October. She is expected to say that many people, who she sees as being neglected by society including those on benefits, single mothers and those in prison, are being failed by the current education system. She believes that many of these people want to learn and more opportunities for part-time study are needed to allow them to improve their lives.

The WEA conference, 'Building Communities in Challenging Times', will also feature speakers from senior representatives from the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), the National Institute for Continuing Adult Education (NIACE), the Campaign for Learning and Britain’s biggest union Unite. As the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education with a special mission to reach disadvantaged adults, the WEA conference will be exploring how part-time education can transform communities across the UK.

Baroness Bakewell’s comments come after recent figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), showed that there has been a 40% downturn in part-time entrants at undergraduate level and 27% at postgraduate level since 2010.

Baroness Bakewell said: "I believe everyone wants to learn. It is a human impulse.

“I believe those so-called skivers want to learn - so do truants and those serving time. I believe whole groups of people neglected by society: those on benefits, those looking for a job, single women struggling to raise their families....they all want to learn. Our educational set up is failing them and failing them badly. It needs a major overhaul. That's where part-time study comes in."

Chief Executive of the WEA, Ruth Spellman, said: “Part-time entrants to higher education are largely older adults. The recent decline in numbers suggests that there has not been enough investment in further and higher education.

“If more isn’t done to urgently address this decline the UK economy will suffer as our workforce becomes increasingly older.”

More information on the WEA Conference can be found at www.wea.org.uk/conference13. Speakers include Professor Marjorie Mayo from Goldsmiths University, Les Ebdon from OFFA, David Hughes from NIACE, Kenny Barron from Unite along with representatives from Canterbury Christ Church University, Green Square Housing Group, Mole Valley Housing Association and the Campaign for Learning.


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