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Profile of Bob Fryer, non-exec board member at UfI


This profile of Professor Bob Fryer is reproduced with permission from Individual Learning News.

The next few months are critical ones for Ufi Ltd. In the autumn of this year they become fully open for business. This is when all the investment and work that has gone into this flagship initiative needs to come good, and provide the UK with the means to become a society of habitual and effective learners, of people well fitted to take advantage of changes of all kinds.

Bearing much of the responsibility for the success of this venture is Professor Bob Fryer, with former Chairman Ron Dearing and Chief Executive Anne Wright. For fifteen years he was Principal of Northern College, but nowadays he divides his time between Ufi Ltd., where he was formerly Director of Policy and External Relations, but now has joined the Board as a non-Executive Director, and the University of Southampton, where he is Assistant Vice-Chancellor and Director of New College.

Bob has a strong record of commitment to the cause of lifelong learning and widening access to educational opportunities, and for a great many people in recent years he has been a welcome voice trumpeting the value and the necessity of lifelong learning at innumerable gatherings great and small.

Since he was appointed Chairman of NAGCELL in May 1997, Bob has been on the road speaking on platform after platform of the importance of this revolution in learning and the culture of learning. He is a very skilled performer. His presentations have energy, humour and clarity, and a wide and confident knowledge of his subject. Although I have heard him on many occasions, sometimes several times in the same week, he seems to bring to each presentation a fresh impetus, a new angle that is of particular interest to the particular audience that he is addressing.

The importance of this barnstorming effort cannot be stressed too much. Bob made his audiences realise how the policies and the strategies that were being explored related to a well founded sense of human beings and human values, the lives that people have to live and how they can be changed through lifelong learning. He motivated the people on whose work the birth of the learning society would depend.

Particularly in the early days, he conveyed a sense of urgency and determination. 'We have now got the chance to do all the things that many of us have dreamed of for years,' he said. 'We must make sure that we don't mess it up. We must make it work.'

The work of the NAGCELL committee contributed to the vision that informed The Learning Age. It put down a marker and provided a basis on which future policy could be built.
Looking back on the three years since the Adult Learners' Week Awards ceremony, at which David Blunkett announced the creation of NAGCELL, Bob recognises some of the influence the NAGCELL report, Learning for the 21st Century, has had on events. It played a part in, for example:

  • the setting up of the Moser Committee, through drawing attention to the problem of adult basic skills
  • the Adult Community Learning Fund, through stressing the importance of community learning
  • encouraging Government support for family learning, through pointing to its benefits and how such learning could be put in place
  • the Union Learning Fund, through clarifying the importance of workplace learning.

The report was one of the factors that fed into the initiatives on social exclusion and skills for neighbourhood renewal, and that stimulated debate about what is meant by changing the culture, and bringing home the challenges of where we start from.

Still to Do
There is much unfinished business such as the issues of funding (especially for part-time learners), the question of entitlement and the need for a simplification of the qualifications framework, but Bob thinks that these might well be picked up by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). He see the LSC as one of the major developments emerging out of The Learning Age, the culmination of two decades of initiatives and developments.

Bob went to the City of Oxford High School for Boys. He was fond of sport; he was captain and outside half of the school rugby team and played for his county. He was very keen on modern languages and on issues of citizenship. At University in Cambridge, he was chair of the student representative council, standing up for the rights of students. Later as a graduate student at Oxford, he was drawn into the industrial and union scene through his brother who was at that time a shop steward at the Cowley car works. Subsequently Bob worked with NUPE and UNISON.

He held various university posts and then was Principal of Northern College for fifteen years, until he went to the University of Southampton. His chief responsibilities there are developing Southampton University's strategy for lifelong learning and widening participation, both within New College and across the University as a whole.


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