Becoming multilingual – a week at @NIACEhq

2 May 2013

NIACE is a great organisation with great staff. The welcome I have received a week into my new job – despite joining during Adult Learners’ Week, one of the busiest periods in the year – has been phenomenal. I can see dedicated, experienced staff, many established thought-leaders in their fields, all working hard on the economic and social benefits that we know adult continuing education brings to the UK. The passionate focus in this work on the learner experience, and on social impact, is inspiring.

It’s already clear to me that NIACE is people-focused, internally and in our strong community and citizen focus. Adult Learners’ Week this year has showcased life-changing stories: people progressing to employment and greater academic achievement, becoming active citizens, and building community cohesion. This is the stuff that changes lives and changes societies. NIACE does this well – it supports individuals to participate and helps tell their stories in ways that bring a tear to the eye.

We are well connected with government, courted by ministers, respected by those within and connected to our fields of expertise, as well as being a membership organisation with good reach across colleges, universities, councils, charities and many more besides.

These relationships matter to us. It’s no accident that we are well regarded as the foremost and amongst the largest adult learning NGOs in the world. This can only be to our advantage in the years ahead. Improving our reach, impact and national influence will continue to be challenging given the climate of austerity and the sluggish prospects for growth across the UK.  But we have a great story to tell and a compelling contribution to this debate. 

At the NIACE poverty conference in Cardiff last week, we showcased the five key benefits from participation in adult learning – wage gains, health benefits, civic participation, social value and improving family life chances. We showed how life-changing learning experiences contribute to slowing entry into that most costly of UK public services – the adult social care system.

These are ‘big ticket’ issues – at the core of the national debate on the future shape, purpose and funding of public services and of education across the UK. They are reflected strongly in our asks for the forthcoming spending review.

Add to this the political consensus on the priority of adult learning and we have the grounds for great success. Matthew Hancock, the Skills Minister, was clear on his priority on this agenda in his address to the Adult Learners’ Week National Awards Ceremony in London last week. And David Willetts, the HE Minister, has challenged NIACE to “hold him to account” for this priority at our recent parliamentary reception. We must be strong in doing so.

NIACE recognises that we need to continue to finesse our language to ensure the big national debates on skills, growth, LEPs and the consequences of the Heseltine review for devolution of skills funding are debates we continue to influence in pursuit of those five “big ticket” benefits.  People have said to me already we need to be “bilingual”, and act out of our comfort zones.  I would argue we may need to be “multi-lingual”.  That could well define our communications and public affairs challenge in the years ahead.

NIACE is a big organisation, with big ideas and lots to contribute to the debate on UK recovery and social renewal. I’m as excited as the rest of the great people I have already met about making sure we have a lasting influence on that debate.