Our history

The history of union learning is a long and progressive one. It begins with the colleges established for the education of working people, which were set up in the late nineteenth century, closely followed by the founding of the Workers' Educational Association.

The opening of the TUC Training College after the second world war gave a big boost to the training of trade union representatives. This increased with the huge growth in demand for union representative training as a result of employment and health and safety legislation in the 1970s.

Union Learning Reps (ULRs)

Even in the politically cold climate of the early 1990s, TUC regions formed partnerships with Training and Enterprise Councils. These Bargaining for Skills projects promoted union involvement in training at the workplace. They developed into TUC Learning Services under the new Labour Government, extending such activity into areas such as Skills for Life, Information, Advice and Guidance and the recruitment and training of union learning representatives (ULRs).

Union Learning Fund

An important landmark was the setting up of the Union Learning Fund in 1998, which has disbursed around £150m. Many of the union-led projects involved recruiting ULRs and establishing workplace learning centres. This activity was greatly enhanced through the statutory recognition of ULRs in 2002 and the establishment of UNet, which supported learndirect centres.

The union record

  • Every year more than 30,000 union representatives are trained through the TUC Education Service
  • More than 40,000 ULRs have been trained since 1999
  • More than 550 Union Learning Fund projects have been run, involving 57 trade unions
  • 600 union learning centres established
  • Over a quarter of a million learners access courses each year supported through union learning.