'Don't make it harder to be an Open Uni student'.
Byline: Rachel Wearmouth Regional Affairs Reporter email@example.com
DR Miriam Stoppard has told how she is "horrified" at news the Open University plans to close its arts and humanities office in Gateshead.
The Newcastle-born doctor and agony aunt was speaking at the city's Westgate Community College, where she joined Baroness Oona King and Labour MP Chi Onwurah for the launch of a Parliamentary group that will explore the impact of cuts in adult education. It emerged this week that the Open University plans to close its base in Gateshead with the loss of 61 jobs. In March, the Association of Colleges said adult education "will not exist by 2020" if cuts continue as 190,000 adult education places are set to go next year with funding cut by 24%.
Dr Stoppard said: "I often thought that the Open University ran alongside the National Health Service; it's everyone's right to have access to higher education. I'm horrified to hear that the Gateshead Open University office is going to close.
"A lot of people don't necessarily want to join a night class or even try to get into a college or a university. A lot of people want to do it privately, to work in their own time and at their own pace, and that shouldn't be made more difficult for them."
Former diversity officer for Channel 4 Baroness King said cuts to adult education put the country on a "slippery slope".
She said: "I don't think people understand how the closure of opportunities like that is, at least in my view, the closure of what Britain should be about, "Britain should be about giving people the opportunity of lifelong learning. You can't throw people on the scrapheap at any age. If we are a less educated country, it will mean that we can't compete."
Ms Onwurah will be chairing the all-party Parliamentary group, backed by the Workers' Education Association, and hopes it will raise the profile of adult education and widen the debate across the country.
She said: "I'm delighted to be launching, and chairing, this new allparty Parliamentary group for adult education.
"We need more opportunities and support for adults to learn throughout their lives, whatever their circumstances. Our world is constantly changing and learning helps many people to make the positive changes they need - whether it's finding a better job or broadening cultural horizons.
"I am looking forward to working with other MPs, Lords and educational groups like the WEA in exploring how we can make this happen." Dr Stoppard added: "Education is life and there is always something we should learn. "Late developers by and large do very well. It always requires courage but I think education should never stop. I'm a ripe old age but I like to think that I am always still learning."
From left, Chi Onwurah, Ruth Spellman, Dr Miriam Stoppard and Baroness Oona King yesterday