The lifelong learning revolution starts here

Yesterday the Government published its Green Paper on lifelong learning - downgraded from the White Paper expected since the autumn. The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, backs it, while John Edmonds asks where the money is
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Last weekend's meeting of the world's leading industrialised nations in London agreed on the importance of lifelong learning if individuals and business are to meet the challenges of globalisation in the new century.

The Green Paper is designed to make a reality of this aspiration, with its radical and practical proposals for learning in the information age. It is as important to our economic and social policy as the drive to raise school standards, and the New Deal for the unemployed.

I am a living example of how lifelong learning can bring about success, whatever an individual's background. That is why I am committed to making it easier for people to learn and to update their skills by creating an individual learning revolution, including the University for Industry, individual learning accounts, and our new advice line - Learning Direct - which is already up and running. We recognise that people will increasingly want to learn at home or in work using modern media such as the Internet and digital television, as well as in more traditional colleges.

This is not to underestimate the importance of colleges and universities. Far from it; they are central to our vision. Having provided further education with an extra pounds 100m for next year - and higher education with pounds 165m above Conservative plans - we have already started to redress the neglect of the last few years. The Green Paper will be accompanied by our responses to Lord Dearing's report on higher education and Baroness Kennedy's report on further education.

I want to see the development of high standards in further, adult and higher education so that students can be confident about the quality of teaching they receive. It is important that all lecturers are committed to good teaching and have the skills to deliver it. Improvements in standards, access and accountability in these sectors are essential to help break down the barriers which stop people from learning and employers from tackling their skill needs.

But we must also recognise that lifelong learning will never become a reality without a willingness to embrace change. Small firms are increasingly important. The expectation of jobs for life has given way to worries about job insecurity. Helping individuals and firms meet these challenges requires radical thinking, and today's Green Paper represents just that.

No previous government has launched for consultation a programme of measures which link new, practical means of delivery with the mechanisms for giving individuals expectations and choice. Building on existing expectations and excellence, we offer through the University for Industry and digital and interactive communication, together with individual learning accounts, a new approach to learning in the 21st century.

The University for Industry has the potential to do for skills in the new century what the Open University has done to open up degree access. By offering courses from basic to advanced skills, it can harness modern technology to improve vocational skills through workplace or home computers, in learning centres, libraries and colleges.

With the increased need for portable skills, individuals will need to take more responsibility and have more choice in developing their education. They will need to "top up" learning at different stages in their adult lives. We will make real our manifesto commitment to kick-starting a million individual learning accounts today. But that is only the beginning. I am confident that introducing new ILAs will herald a more radical transformation in learning and attitudes to learning - with the cards embodying the philosophy and practice of lifelong learning.

Where the industrial revolution was built on capital investment in plant and equipment, the information revolution of the 21st century will be based on knowledge and human capital. It is crucial that we develop a leading role for Britain in the other new industries which will spring up in the new millennium. The Green Paper emphasises the importance of lifelong learning to creativity, culture and self-improvement as well as economic success.

In addition, we will be building on Investors in People, opening up a new dialogue with employees on the skills needed for the future and developing the combined academic and vocational expertise in putting behind us the divisions of the past and building structures fit for the future.

Decisions on further investment will be delivered as part of the comprehensive spending review to be concluded this summer, to coincide with the end of consultation on the Green Paper.

This is the first time that any government has produced a comprehensive strategy for lifelong learning. We will be judged on our success in preparing people for the challenges of the new century by enabling them to benefit from world-class education and training.

For more information, call the free helpline Learning Direct, 0800 100 900.