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From adult to higher education: how should it work?

What role can adult education play in helping more people to access higher education?

To find out, we’re speaking to two people who have experienced adult education themselves and continue to champion its benefits through their careers. The Rt Hon. the Lord Blunkett is a former Secretary of State for Education who has taken on some of the most challenging roles in politics. While Emma Beal is Principal and Chief Executive of Northern College, the only adult residential college in the North of England.

Join us for a reminder of the multiple benefits of adult education, the importance of breaking down barriers to higher education, and how we can unite these sectors to create a powerful common purpose.


About The Rt Hon. the Lord Blunkett

Lord Blunkett’s remarkable 40-year public service journey reflects a resilience few can match. Overcoming blindness from birth and early poverty, he defied the odds, entering the University of Sheffield through evening classes and day releases. Rising from the youngest-ever councillor in Sheffield to Labour Party Chair, he played a key role in shaping New Labour.

Appointed Secretary of State for Education and Employment after the 1997 Labour landslide, David navigated complexities in education, apprenticeships, and equal opportunities. As Home Secretary during tumultuous times, he oversaw controversial portfolios including counter-terrorism and immigration. A 28-year MP, he transitioned to the Lords and assumed roles like Professor of Politics and Chair of the University of Law’s board.

Beyond politics, David shares insider perspectives on change management, social responsibility, and diversity. His captivating anecdotes from Labour’s era make him an entertaining after-dinner speaker. With a broad policy focus, he contributes to charities and serves on the National Citizens Service Trust board, emphasizing citizenship education and youth well-being. David’s extensive media presence includes publications like “The Blunkett Tapes” and a memorable appearance on Mastermind with Harry Potter as his chosen subject.

Read his full biography here.

About Emma Beal

Emma Beal is Principal and Chief Executive of Northern College, the only adult residential college in the North of England.

Northern College has a distinguished history of providing life changing opportunities to hundreds of adult learners every year many of whom have not fulfilled their potential previously. Based in Barnsley, the College attracts students from South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and further afield.

Emma has more than 22 years’ experience of leading, managing and delivering provision across a broad spectrum of educational areas within South Yorkshire. Emma’s experience, knowledge and skills include developing new curriculum, quality improvement and partnerships. Her previous roles include being Assistant Principal for Curriculum, Quality and Market Development at Northern College and Assistant Director for Lifelong Learning at Sheffield City Council.


  • Download the transcript for this episode here.