The UUK report on Social Mobility, requested by the government to advise on the contribution that Universities could and should be making, has just been launched. Its 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. Indeed, as the latest report for SMF shows, no amount of study success for those from certain groups in society will compensate for not knowing what colour shoes it is acceptable to wear with a blue suit! Short of launching ‘Dressing for success 101’ it is hard to know what Universities might be expected to do on their own.


Such issues of social and cultural capital are as crucial, if not more so, for mature students but constitute an additional challenge faced by those who have left their school years behind, might already be in employment but actively seeking opportunities to develop their career. The UUK report recommends specifically raising awareness of the different routes into and through HE and the promotion of the value of lifelong learning and the value of part time study.


The Social Partnerships Network (SPN) at the OU is a great example of really productive collaborative working. Members include WEA, NEC, Unionlearn, Unison, LWI, AoC, Leonard Cheshire Disability and NCVO. We have been working for the last two years to explore ways to highlight pathways into learning for adults, whether in work or seeking it, primarily using free learning resources provided though Openlearn. But early on in our discussions we recognised the need to provide better Information, Advice and Guidance about the many, varied and often confusing routes to higher level qualifications.


Using the HEFCE funding for NNCOs, the SPN, led by the OU have now produced just such a resource. PEARL (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 characteristics of the enquirer.


And for those who have an idea of what area they would like to work in but have no real idea what steps they need to take, the SPN have also provided some free online courses ( which provide badges for learners which can be displayed on their CV or LinkedIn profile.


The resources are great and, we would argue, deliver to the recommendations of the UUK report. But it is absolutely true that they could not have been produced without working in partnership. Our challenge now is to maintain and sustain the resources post-funding so that we can continue to level the playing field a little for adult and part time learners.

Author: Liz Marr

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