A PEARL of information, advice and guidance for adult learners

Universities UK (UUK) recently launched a report on Social Mobility at the request of the Government, to advise on the contribution that universities could and should be making. The report’s most important point is that universities alone cannot right all social wrongs, but that working in collaboration with schools and employers will go some way to making a difference.

The part-time problem

The catastrophic decline in part-time student numbers in England over the last five years is also well documented in the report, and has occurred despite the crucial need to upskill and reskill the current working population to meet the productivity needs of the country.

Entrants by mode and level of study, 2004-05 to 2013-14

Entrants by mode and level of study 2004-05 to 2013-14

Those who have left their school years behind might already be in employment, but face huge challenges in identifying opportunities to develop or further enhance their career prospects. Indeed, the UUK report specifically recommends raising awareness of the different routes into and through HE, and the promotion of the value of lifelong learning and part-time study.

A ‘one stop shop’ for adult learners

The PEARL website

The Open University-managed Social Partnerships Network (SPN) is a great example of really productive collaborative working, which involves a variety of members, including Workers’ Educational Association, National Extension College, Unionlearn, UNISON, Learning and Work Institute, Association of Colleges, Leonard Cheshire Disability, and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

We have been working together for the last three years to explore how best to highlight pathways into learning for adults, whether in work or seeking employment, primarily using the free online courses provided though the OU’s OpenLearn platform. Early on in our discussions, we identified a gap in the Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) available to adult learners. We found there was no ‘one stop shop’ clearly signposting the many, varied and often confusing routes to higher-level qualifications.

Using additional HEFCE funding, as part of the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCO) scheme, the network has now produced such a resource. The PEARL website (Part Time Education for Adults Returning to Learn) is intended to be the ‘go-to’ resource for those trying to find their way through the plethora of pathways available to adults, and contains a sophisticated diagnostic in the form of an  ‘Advise  Me’ tool which personalises the IAG to the individual  requirements and circumstances of the enquirer.

Free online courses

Social Partnerships Network badges

Additionally, the Social Partnerships Network has also developed some free online courses for those who have an idea of what area they would like to work in, but do not really know what steps they need to take, or those looking for career progression within some specific areas of activity. As they progress through the course of their choice (out of the six courses on offer), learners can collect badges, which can be displayed on their CV or LinkedIn profile.

We are proud of these resources and would argue that they deliver to the recommendations of the UUK report. However, they could not have been produced without working in partnership.

In the current UK context with an ageing population, the predicted decline of 18 year olds entering HE and the need to focus on reskilling and upskilling the current UK workforce, we are confident that PEARL fills an IAG gap at a national level. It provides a one stop shop for adults looking for part-time, flexible and tailored educational opportunities and brings together the worlds of education and work.

Our challenge now is to promote, maintain and sustain the resources as HEFCE’s programme of funding comes to an end, so that we can continue to level the playing field a little more for adult and part-time learners.