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Reversing decades of neglect: government-commissioned report on upskilling and reskilling adults in the workforce

Dr Philip Augar (below right), chair of the Post-18 Education and Funding Review Panel, was commissioned by the May government in February 2018 to improve the availability of technical and vocational education by providing alternatives to university education.

Dr Augar opens his report by pointing out that the review is the first since the Robbins report in 1963 to consider both parts of tertiary education together:

Prime Minister Harold Wilson – in the ‘60s and ‘70s – supported tertiary education by supporting the setting up of the Open University, channelling funds into local-authority run colleges of education and creating extra places in universities, polytechnics and technical colleges.

Since then, Augar points out, no government of any persuasion has considered further education to be a priority.

The consequence has been decades of neglect and a loss of status and prestige amongst learners, employers and the public at large.

He sees the review as a unique opportunity to deliver an objective assessment of the current situation, to articulate the country’s future needs from tertiary Introduction education, and to propose remedies that are practical and realistic in addressing the issues it has identified:

“It is an opportunity to consider the roles both should play in meeting the country’s social and economic needs, how they fit together, how they should be funded and whether they are delivering value for students and taxpayers”.

The review asks whether the changing pattern of public subsidy is strategically desirable

It points out that the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that the public subsidy amounts to about £30,000 per student for those studying Arts and Humanities and as much as £37,000 for those taking courses in the Creative Arts. The equivalent is £28,000 for Engineering students and £24,000 for those studying Maths and Computer Science.

And Figure 3.11 (based on HMRC data) also shows that the government’s investment in providing Engineering degrees has fallen by about £9,000 per student since 2011, but risen by more than £6,000 for Creative Arts degrees – over 30% more per student for Creative Arts than it does for Engineering.

After describing post-18 (or ‘tertiary’) education in England as a story of both care and neglect, depending on whether students are amongst the 50% of young people who participate in higher education (HE) or the rest, Philip Augar continues:

“The panel believes that this disparity simply has to be addressed. Doing so is a matter of fairness and equity and is likely to bring considerable social and economic benefits to individuals and the country at large.”

In a changing labour market it is vitally important to offer upskilling and reskilling to older adults in the workforce with basic or intermediate skills and an FT editorial adds a reference to the “knock-on effects on productivity, wage growth and social harmony”.

At present the decline in vocational education is widespread and protracted. Most of the neglected 50% of the 18-30-year-old population who do not go to university, and older non-graduates are at work and, if they are educated at all after the age of 18, are educated mainly in further education colleges where teachers are paid on average less than their counterparts in schools:

“Funding levels are inadequate to cover essential maintenance or to provide modern facilities, and funding flows are complex to navigate. Not surprisingly, the sector is demoralised, has little to spend on mission groups and is consequently under-reported in the media and under-represented in Westminster”.

The FT editorial board welcomes the recommendation to expand the tuition fee loan system to all adults made by Augar, whom they describe as a businessman and historian.

It points out that increasing numbers are attending university, in sharp contrast to the UK’s vocational education system, which has seen funding cut by 45% in real terms since 2010 and agrees:

  • The Treasury should make up the funding shortfall in grants for science and technology courses, which receive less taxpayer funding despite wider benefits and that
  • more resources will be needed to fund opportunities for lifelong learning and training.

Its conclusion: “Creating a system in which all contribute and all benefit is essential. would be good both for the economy and to promote a fairer society . . . with knock-on effects on productivity, wage growth and social harmony”.






Bad decisions on organophosphates – 28: why doesn’t government act on reports by DEFRA, the Lancet and toxicology research, 1999-2012?

Has the state exposed sheep farmers and soldiers to OP poisoning?

Dr Virginia Harrison (Open University), co-author of the most recent UK study (cover opposite) on the subject very briefly summarised the problem a few days ago; a number of occupational groups have expressed concern that their health has been affected by exposure to organophosphates, including sheep farmers, who between 1988 and 1991 were required by government to dip sheep yearly in pesticide formulations containing OPs. Between 1985 and 1998 more than 600 reports of ill health following exposure to sheep dip were received by a government adverse reaction surveillance scheme.

Despite this, the government appears to have ignored research findings ranging over the last fifteen years, including:
July 1999

The Lancet : Volume 354, Number 9173, 10 July 1999 85-172, page 133   Prolonged, low-dose exposure to organophosphorus sheep dips is linked with chronic ill-health—the most risky occupational activity seems to be handling of concentrated pesticide. These are the main findings of a report published by the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM; Edinburgh, UK).

December 2004

The Lancet Neurology, Volume 3, Issue 12, Page 702, December 2004. A top-level US advisory Panel has reported that the neurological symptoms associated with Gulf War syndrome are probably caused by low-level exposure to various toxins that soldiers were exposed to during the war in 1991. The findings of the Panel, which was appointed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2002, support those of an ongoing series of reviews undertaken by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

August 2008

The finding of one of these reviews – well worth reading – was that evidence strongly and consistently indicates that one of the Gulf War neurotoxic exposures causally associated with Gulf War illness was pesticide use during deployment. Evidence includes the consistent association of Gulf War illness with pesticides across studies of Gulf War veterans, identified dose-response effects, and research findings in other populations.

May 2009

Research published by DEFRA revealed the extent to which even low level exposure to organophosphate (OP) sheep dip appears to have caused health problems in farmers. An extensive study involving 132 farm workers with a history of using OPs before 1991 found they are suffering today from a range of physical, mental and emotional problems.  Dr Mackenzie-Ross, of University College London, said “Defra’s advice should stress OPs should be a last resort and that other chemicals can be used.”

Defra appeared to dismiss its findings, commenting: “The results of this report do not definitively demonstrate organophosphates cause chronic ill-health, but suggest that a relationship may exist.” It ruled out using taxpayers’ money to compensate victims ‘when the current independent advice is that a link between long-term, low-level OP exposure and ill health has not been proven’.

March 2012: VMD and OGOP – not a dynamic duo:

An update from the government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate, informed the Official Group on Organophosphates that the VMD awaits new residues data from the manufacturer of Osmond’s Goldfleece. The last update from the manufacturer suggests that their report may be ready by April 2012. The VMD reminded OGOP that the change was separate from the issue of whether the use of OPs was linked to ill-health in humans. ACTION: OGOP Secretariat to arrange the next meeting for October 2012 if the OP review was completed. Searches show no sign that the review has been completed or an October meeting held.

December 2012

Earlier this month the farming press reported that a systematic review of the literature carried out by researchers at UCL, in London and the Open University, with the same lead author, found that low exposure to the chemicals damages ‘neurological and cognitive function’. The research was published in the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology.

Powerbase reports that some prominent European Food Safety Authority regulators have conflicts of interest, holding positions in organisations that are funded by the same companies whose products they are supposed to regulate – pesticides, genetically modified (GM) foods, and food contaminants.

This report shows that over a period of many years, influential EFSA managers and regulators have been heavily involved with a US-based organisation called the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which is funded by multinational pesticide, chemical, GM seed,and food companies. The independence of EFSA’s risk assessment processes on pesticides and food safety has been seriously compromised by its close involvement with industry, chiefly represented by ILSI.

Is our government also closely involved with industry as we so often report?
Are they also bowing to the industry’s interests at the expense of many, including farmers, soldiers and pilots?