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Blog: Putting lifelong learning at the heart of our recovery

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External Affairs Manager Cerith Rhys-Jones discusses The OU in Wales' manifesto for the 2021 Senedd election.

After the year we’ve all had, it might seem strange to be thinking ahead to what happens after next May, but with the Senedd election on the horizon, that is what we must do.

The election gives us all an opportunity to think about how we want Wales to recover from the Coronavirus pandemic: what we want to change, and what we want to keep.

Last month, The Open University in Wales published our own manifesto, which sets out the kind of things we want the next Welsh Government to do to make learning open to everyone.

Cerith Rhys-Jones

Cerith Rhys-Jones

We called it Brave New Wales because we think the next government really will need to be brave if it’s to succeed in changing the way we all think about education and learning.

No longer can we afford for it to be something we get just one chance at, but rather a lifelong process that we can dip in and out of around our many other commitments and priorities.

We’ve split our asks between six key themes which broadly cover where we would like the next government to focus its efforts. Here are some of the highlights.

Firstly, we think the next government should provide stability in the reformed student finance system.

It should also ensure that universities have the funding they need to continue to deliver high-quality and flexible student experiences.

We think the next government should also invest in better infrastructure so that people are able to access learning throughout life.

Things like setting a target for zero digital exclusion and making sure that households in Wales’ most deprive communities have access to at least one device and an internet connection.

Things like exploring the introduction and expansion of new, flexible routes into professions like teaching, healthcare, and law.

Things like creating a new, statutory Right to Lifelong Learning and investing in our public libraries so that they can become Community Learning Hubs.

We also recognise that Covid-19 and Brexit present us with unique challenges, so we need to expand degree apprenticeships and invest in work-based and workplace learning.

But we also think the next government should think more broadly about the role of learning in building a better, more prosperous country for us all.

So, we’d like them to work with us to introduce a new Essential Skills qualification in citizenship and to revisit the idea of a Financial Literacy Bill.

We also know, of course, that while we’re still in the midst of a global health crisis, the global climate crisis still looms large, and we all have a role to play in tackling it.

That’s why we’d like them to set a target to decarbonise the higher education sector within 15 years, if not sooner.

The vision we’ve put forward is a blueprint for the next Welsh Government to harness the power of skills and lifelong learning to recover and rebuild a better Wales.

Now is the time for us to think big and we believe that by putting lifelong learning at the heart of our recovery, we will build a brave, new Wales to the benefit of all our citizens.

This blog originally appeared as an article in University View in the Western Mail on 17 December 2020.

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