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TUC - Unionlearn: the lead organisation for advice on higher learning for working people

A new website, Higher Learning at Work (www.higherlearningatwork.org) has been launched to help learners discover the opportunities available to get better qualifications.

There are diagnostic tools to see if you are ready for degree-level studies: traditional entry requirements may not be necessary, your life and work experience will count. There are courses which have bite-sized modules so that you can combine learning with your work and family commitments and bring your knowledge up to date.

Unionlearn is now one of the leading organisations providing information to working people, who are looking for advice on getting access to higher-level studies, since the funding for Foundation Degree Forward (fdf), Aim Higher and the Lifelong Learning Network has come to an end.

The website will be useful to you if you are a union member or a rep. It is also useful to all other working adults, including apprentices, who are interested in moving on to higher-level learning. If you are a workplace mentor, tutor or assessor or a human resources professional or training officer you will find a range of resources to help you to advise learners. You can check out ways of working with unions to change lives through learning.

A range of resources created by unionlearn, the Open University, fdf, the Lifelong Learning Networks, Aim Higher and the Sector Skills Councils will help you to find out more about the different routes and pathways you can take through higher learning. The site gives access to information about funding available to make your learning more affordable and if you are a union member there may be special discounts and bursaries arranged through your union or unionlearn.

A pilot unionlearn/fdf project in the south east led to 150 union members, including fire fighters, customs staff, health workers, postal workers and teachers and teaching assistants, studying at degree and masters degree level through their workplace. The project worked with organisations including Royal Mail, BT, Royal Sun Alliance and Air France. http://www.unionlearn.org.uk/policy/learn-3608-f0.cfm?regional=7

Tom Wilson, director of unionlearn, said: 'The website provides a useful one-stop shop for union reps, HR personnel, trainers and learners who want to explore the opti0ns within higher education. Unionlearn is now the lead organisation in promoting higher-level learning to working people. Our union learning reps are being trained to offer expert advice to their colleagues in getting access and funding to courses most suited to them. And union members are entitled to discounts on courses that we have negotiated with a range of higher education institutions.'

London Fire and Rescue Service

Last autumn, Tim Davis, the Fire Brigades Union's London region lifelong learning co-ordinator, decided to put on an event during the Festival of Learning to offer personnel the chance to enrol in one of the Open University's Openings introductory-level courses.

Two presentations were delivered by Ernest Dyer, the Open University's regional manager, at the London Fire Brigade Training Centre in Southwark, south London. More than 100 members of staff attended. He said: We now have approximately 60 students who work in the fire service studying on a number of different Openings courses - all of these students were funded via the union. I do hope that they will be taking the first steps on an educational journey that will be completed when, in a few years time, they will each gain a degree... and I hope there will be many more fire fighters following in their footsteps.'

Jason Baptiste, a fire fighter based at Romford fire station is taking an 'Understanding Society' course. He said: 'I wanted to gain a better understanding of the world and the people on it. I found all of the topics in the introductory course very appealing. I manage my time relatively well, working the 2-2-4 shift system allows me to study on my days off when my children are at school. My tutor provides me with feedback on my essays and helps me with any questions I may have.'

(more case studies can be found at www.higherlearningatwork.org)


Foundation degrees were introduced in September 2001. They are devised for work-based learning and are equivalent to the first two years of an honours degree.

The Leitch Review of Skills set a target of 40% of people of working age to have obtained a qualification of Level 4 or above by 2020.

In the past 12 years, unionlearn has trained more than 26,000 ULRs. In 2009/10 almost 250,000 working people were involved in a learning opportunity delivered through their union, and supported by unionlearn. Of these, 5,000 were enrolled on degree level courses, 22,000 enrolled on Level 3, 40,000 on level 2.

Unionlearn resources include an HEI Checklist providing information for universities and FE colleges in how they can best provide higher-level courses to union members. A guide for trade union reps Higher education at work: making the case to employers provides information and case studies for ULRs. A range of resources and publications on HE for ULRs and employers can found at http://www.unionlearn.org.uk/advice/index.cfm?mins=162

All unionlearn press releases can be found at www.unionlearn.org.uk

Media enquiries:
Frances Rafferty T: 020 7079 6950 M: 07827 813439 E:
James Asser T: 020 7079 6942 M: 07769 706104 E: jasser@tuc.org.uk




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