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From April (in England) “Adults without an A-Level or equivalent qualification will be offered a free, fully funded college course – providing them with the skills valued by employers, and the opportunity to study at a time and location that suits them” This will be paid for through the National Skills Fund. A full list of available courses will be set out shortly
“Higher education loans will also be made more flexible, allowing adults and young people to space out their study across their lifetimes, take more high quality vocational courses in further education colleges and universities, and to support people to retrain for jobs for the future”
A Further Education white paper will set out details “later this year”.
This, of course, is to be very much welcomed and is inherent in the RSN’s Policy Asks in its Revitalising Rural campaign. However, the devil will be in the detail.
On average those working in predominantly rural areas have somewhat lower skill levels than those working in predominantly urban areas, based on National Vocational Qualification (or equivalent) standards. This is workplace-based information and probably indicates that some better qualified rural residents commute to urban jobs. Recent RSN analysis of “lower-level qualification rates for 25-64 year olds” in rural areas shows a rate of 35% (on average) only slightly below the urban figure of 38%. It will be important, therefore that the detailed proposals include policies etc suitable to meet rural needs and opportunities.
Access to the education and training issues in rural areas will be a real issue as will the issue of choice in the range of courses able to be offered by rural colleges. A free course that costs a lot to access is not really free to the user. Online course depend on having reliable, fast broadband and being able to afford access to it where it exists.
The RSN will fully consider the rural issue when the white paper is issued.
 Statistical Digest of Rural England, Defra, based on ONS Annual Population Survey 2018
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