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Hopes for the next Senedd term – The Open University in Wales

April 23rd 2021

Continuing with our guest articles, Cerith Rhys Jones argues that skills and lifelong learning are the key to our recovery from Covid-19 and rebuilding a better Wales

man reading

Image from Tamarcus Brown at Unsplash

For many thousands of people across Wales, the past year has been an incredibly challenging and difficult time. We must not forget the enormous sacrifice and loss that many have faced. Our lives have been disrupted in a way few of us had imagined possible. So, too, have our economy, our society, and our workplaces. Through all of this, we have had to adapt and change. While we will all be pleased to see the back of the past year or so’s dark moments, we must hold on to those positive changes which emerged from the crisis.

One of those changes is a renewed focus on the importance of learning, not only formal learning with a qualification at the end of it, but also informal learning. And as we rebuild and recover, we must not lose the opportunity to radically alter the way we all think about learning. We cannot afford to simply go back to the way things were. If we are going to rebuild our economy and help society recover, we will all need to be able to learn new things. Flexible learning has, perhaps, never been so important.

In our manifesto, we’re calling on the next Welsh Government to commit to providing stability and confidence in the reformed student finance system, which has already made it possible for thousands more students to take up part-time study. But we also need to go further, making flexible lifelong learning a realistic prospect for everyone in Wales. To achieve this goal, we’re advocating for a new Right to Lifelong Learning and investment in better physical, digital, and social infrastructure to support people to exercise such a right.

We’re also calling on the next government to set a target for zero digital exclusion and commit to providing households in our most deprived communities with access to at least one device and an internet connection.

What we also need to see is more attention given to the wide variety of learning opportunities that people need to be able to access, such as expanding degree apprenticeships and bite-sized learning.

Further, we want the next government to use lifelong learning as a tool to promote active and engaged citizenship, such as by introducing a new Essential Skills qualification in citizenship and supporting financial literacy.

Our country faces a multitude of challenges as we begin to emerge from the pandemic. We must be bold enough to see these challenges as opportunities to improve and grow. We must be prepared to show the same kind of bravery and radical thinking as The Open University’s founders did when they created the ‘university of the air’ in 1969.

By doing this, not only will we be playing our part in the rebuilding and recovery, but we will also build a country that we can be proud to pass on to future generations. That is central to the mission and purpose of The Open University: to open up education and lifelong learning to all our citizens, and to be a movement for change.

Cerith Rhys Jones is External Affairs Manager for The Open University in Wales

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