General election 2019: Labour pledges free education to adults to combat skills shortages

Labour has pledged to give every adult six years of free study to bring vocational education in line with university degrees.

Jeremy Corbyn and shadow education secretary Angela Rayner will propose free A-level access for adults and grants for low-earners as part of the party's pledge to stamp out skills shortages in the UK.

The party wants to bring the proposals, costing more than £3billion, to aid its "green industrial revolution" by giving adults skills to tackle the climate crisis and stop people being shut out of work by automation.

Businesses and unions have praised the plans, but the Conservatives say the plan was not deliverable due to Brexit uncertainty and the party backing another EU referendum.

Ms Rayner and the Labour leader will visit Blackpool on Tuesday to outline their proposals.

Under Labour's plans, there would be free entitlement to six years of study for undergraduate degrees and equivalents such as diplomas and foundation degrees.

This would also be extended to certificates and diplomas of higher education in areas such as engineering technicians, nursing associates and professional accounting technicians.

Any adult without an A-level or equivalent qualification would be able to attend college and study them for free.

Businesses have praised Labour's plans. Credit: PA

Grants to support low-income adults through their courses would also be made available if Labour wins the December 12 General Election.

Ms Rayner will also pledge to "throw open the door for adults to study".

She will say: "We will make free education a right, to ensure we have the skills we need to allow our economy to rise to the opportunities of the future."

Mr Corbyn is planning to say Labour will ensure "skills and vocational qualifications and valued the same as university degrees".

He will add: "Tomorrow's jobs are in green and high-tech industries. We need people to have the skills to take those jobs.

"By ensuring the ultra-rich pay their way, we can provide training to everybody who needs it."

The proposals are estimated to cost £2.6bn on education entitlement and an additional £573m on maintenance grants in 2023/24.

Labour said funding for the pledge will be set out in the party's manifesto, but higher taxes on the top earners and reversals to giveaways to big businesses have been hinted at.

Conservative Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said Labour 'is making promises that it simply won't be able to fulfil'. Credit: PA

Federation of Small Businesses national chairman Mike Cherry said: "Retraining and lifelong learning in the workplace is a vital part of ensuring that employers have a skilled workforce fit for the future.

"These proposals show some good promise and highlight the need to ensure that education and training are an integral part of modern working life and ensuring no-one is left behind - particularly in relation to obtaining digital skills."

Conservative Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said Labour "is making promises that it simply won't be able to fulfil" because its plan to hold another EU referendum means the party "won't be able to focus on domestic priorities like education".

"Only Boris Johnson and the Conservatives will get Brexit done and keep our economy strong, which means we can focus on the people's priorities like education and the NHS," he added.

But National Education Union joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted welcomed the announcement following "years of devastating funding cuts" under the Conservatives.

"Introducing free education at all stages of life - from the early years through to lifelong learning - is the right thing to do both for the rights of individuals and to re-skill the economy to meet the challenges that lie ahead, particularly those posed by the climate emergency," she said.

Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton said: "It would clearly require a great deal of planning and resourcing to ensure that there is sufficient capacity, but we are in a strong position to deliver this ambition, building on the existing expertise in our colleges and universities."