Extending higher education opportunities to all those who can benefit is the primary mission for a network of organisations including the Open University (OU).
The Social Partnerships Network which also includes learndirect, unionlearn, unison, Workers’ Education Association, Association of Colleges, National Extension College, Leonard Cheshire Disability and the Learn and Work Institute was established in 2013.
Initially, it worked to raise the profile of learning opportunities that increase progression, and simplify pathways such as the transition from informal to formal learning. In particular it aimed to support the development of workplace learning by promoting to employers the pivotal role this has in supporting economic growth.
The Network also collected a broad range of student stories, especially from those who have increased their employability and career prospects. These help to demonstrate the impact of inspiring and supporting new adult learners from key target groups, as well as providing crucial evidence to organisations such as OFFA.
As well as identifying and sharing free educational content that can be used to inspire under-represented groups to enter higher education, the Network has been training key influencers such as Workers’ Education Association Tutors, Widening Participation representatives from the National Union of Students, employers and others to to provide high quality advice and guidance. As part of this work, the OU has developed a number of Open University Badged Open Courses and an OpenLearn Learner Guide.
And following funding received from HEFCE’s National Networks for Collaborative Outreach scheme, the Social Partnerships Network is working on the development of a new website aimed at adults looking for part-time, flexible learning opportunities. It will include information on the wide range of provision and providers including apprenticeships, informal to formal journeys, union-led courses, employer based training, further education, higher education and recognition of prior learning.
The project will also deliver six free vocationally-relevant online courses to support people who are either unemployed or in low paid jobs and looking to improve their long term life and career prospects. These are:
- Introducing Practical Healthcare for Health Care Assistants and other low paid health sector workers (primarily bands 1 to 4)
- Supporting childhood development for Teaching Assistants and other low paid school staff
- Taking part in the voluntary sector for those wishing to extend their skills within this sector
- Starting your small business for those interested in developing and sustaining their own business
- Planning a better future for anyone who wants generic career planning guidance
- Caring for adults for those in low paid home/residential/community care settings and family carers