Jeremy Corbyn told Andrew Marr last week that: "Britain is good at inventing things, but bad at developing things". Though a somewhat ephemeral analysis, Corbyn's statement was insightful. Indeed, we are world leaders in ground-breaking research, but we leave ideas to flourish elsewhere. We do not have an equivalent of Microsoft, Google, or Apple.
Our inability to develop ideas can be explained, in part, by the training given to our workforce. A high-end economy needs to nurture a flexible labour market, fluent in the latest technology. This is where Britain falls behind.
Could Corbyn’s ‘National Education Service’ offer a solution? Opinion is divided.
Outlined in a speech last Monday, Corybn’s National Education Service would be, in the words of its chief proponent, "a lifelong learning service," free at the point of use. Education would not just be for young people, but a lifelong activity for all age groups.
In the same way that you consult a GP when you’re not well, one would presumably access the NES if in need of additional educational skills to stay employable. Education provided by the NES would not offer academia for its own sake, but would provide vocational skills that employers crave.
Thus, Corbyn’s NES could be of mutual benefit to both industry and the government. Businesses would have greater access to a trained workforce with relevant, transferable skills. Thus, the productivity of the British economy would augment, allowing firms to employ more staff. Subsequently, with more individuals employed in the economy, government tax receipts would enlarge.
Yet, although Corbyn has outlined what seems to be an original education initiative, the Labour leadership contender has also been rather ambivalent about the fine details of his proposal.
It is fair to assume that existing universities would provide training and education, but for free, under a National Education Service. This would certainly be in-keeping with Corbyn’s policy to remove university tuition fees. Universities would also adapt to provide education to older generations. Institutions, such as the Open University, which exhibit a much more diverse demographic of students, would become the norm. Education would thus become more accessible, and it would be unsurprising if online courses gained greater prominence. Corbyn does in fact mention the Open University as the ‘most underrated achievements of Labour in government’. It is therefore likely that it would be the model institution for his policy.
There is no doubt we are far away from implementing a National Education Service, so lauded by Jeremy Corbyn. Obvious political obstacles pose a fundamental blockade: Firstly, the fact that Corbyn not the Leader of the Labour Party (yet) and, secondly, the fact that he is not the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, it is an incontrovertible truth that this country needs a smarter, more flexible workforce. A National Education Service appears, on the surface, as a smart, sensible way to address this national dilemma.