A few weeks ago, Age UK announced that record numbers of those aged over 50 – some even in their 70s – have taken up adult apprenticeships. This is brilliant: the opportunity to continue learning later in life is has always been important, but as the state retirement age climbs to 66 by 2020 and later to 68, and as technology changes faster than ever, we need to ensure that everyone can access education no matter what their age.
The Government's decision to expand the number of adult apprenticeships available is therefore one of the few items of good news in the Comprehensive Spending Review. It is recognition that the chance to learn new skills is as vital for adults as it is younger people.
So, it is shameful, then, that rather than investing in adult learners elsewhere, the Government is removing the entitlements to free first level 2 or level 3 qualifications, with the stated expectation that a system of fees and student loans will be brought into replace them.
It is absurd to do so when we know that there is a shortage of skills in the UK economy, that around a quarter of adults do not currently hold a qualification at level 2 or higher, and other developed nations are choosing to increase investment in skills.
And it is morally bankrupt for any Government to cut funding to cavalierly cut the funding for and increase the costs of education whilst unemployment looks set to rise, and the demand for courses would otherwise increase.
Of course, adult learning is not the only area where cuts will affect mature students and adult learners: our briefings in the last few days have already shown the damage that will be caused by cuts to welfare benefits and support for student parents.
Mature students in higher education too will see the courses they undertake and the institutions they attend suffer, as fees look set to rise and make a degree too expensive for many to consider.
We need to make the Government understand what this means and how we feel. We need to make them see this isn't just an attack on young people – as if that were acceptable even if it were – but something which affects our whole society.
We will march on 10 November in London – see you there.