On the evening of 8th of February 2018 Forward Thinking – with the support of RJ Investments Ltd – organised a working dinner at Somerset House titled “Addressing the barriers to education in the 21st century”. Discussions explored two main themes: identifying the barriers education to education in a global context; and what are the practical initiatives that can address these barriers.

Participants came from a diverse range of backgrounds and included: academics, experts in higher education, government officials, parliamentarians, representatives from civil society working in education and development, and members of the business community. This enabled both a holistic overview of the challenges but also a multidisciplinary exploration of potential solutions.

There was broad agreement that improvements and adaptation in education are required globally. Around the world, significant barriers – including gender, class, and poverty – remain that prevent many individuals from accessing a quality education. Simultaneously, the changing nature of work and the pace of technological change may require a fundamental rethink of how education systems are structured.

It was agreed that, as a first step, there is a need to improve communication and co-ordination in the education system. Important work is being done by schools, universities, civil society organisations but too much of it happens in silos, which prevents knowledge from being shared. Many governments lack the insights of NGOs and those working on the ground, resulting in policymaking that is not sufficiently connected to the practitioner level as a result. NGOs have the opposite problem – they have the insights but struggle to scale these up beyond their own initiative. Accordingly, there is a need to bring together teachers, students, governments and the business community to help address this lack of communication and improve the dissemination of best practice.

Other issues that were discussed included: the state of education in the MENA region, how to widen access to higher education in the UK, and the value of vocational training.