Skills Commission search for a ‘Google College’ future

A group of cross-party MPs and leading figures from the further education sector have called on multinational companies and colleges to join forces  to help “awaken” the “sleeping giant” of FE.

The report, published today by the Skills Commission, urges companies to buy stakes in FE providers – creating new branded colleges, such as a ‘Google College’ or ‘Dyson College’.

Co-chaired by former Education Select Committee chair, Barry Sheerman MP, and chair of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, Dame Ruth Silver, the Commission’s report follows a six-month inquiry and urges colleges to do more to adapt to local businesses’ needs and encourage investment.

Mr Sheerman said there was a “vast untapped pool of talent” in colleges that, with high quality leadership and management, could transform communities.

The FE Sector is described by some as a sleeping giant,” said Mr Sheerman.

“Let us work together and awaken its full potential. We believe FE colleges could play a much bigger role in driving local and regional economic growth, skills and employment.

To do this colleges needed to become known as providers of “first class specialist training that fully understand the needs of their local businesses and clients”, he said.

The report sets out ten key recommendations calling for The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) to investigate what incentives could best encourage large firms to invest in FE.

It said vocational courses could be adapted to meet the specific needs of businesses local to colleges and urges the government to create a publicly backed loan scheme which could ensure colleges had the most up-to-date facilities.

Building on Lord Heseltine’s growth review, the report also called for the creation of a network of ‘McKinsey Colleges’  — named after a leading global consultancy firm — to provide business development services to small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

“We want employers to think of colleges as ‘first choice specialists, not as second best generalists’,” Mr Sheerman said.

The report’s ten recommendations:

  1. Ofsted should review technical and vocational provision across FE.
  2. The Institute for Learning and LSIS should examine professional development in FE.
  3. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) should consider the role of specialisation in the next phase of the Employer Ownership Pilots.
  4. UKCES should consider how large firms can be encouraged to invest in FE.
  5. UKCES should undertake an audit of specialist infrastructure, facilities and equipment across the FE sector.
  6. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) should look into a government backed loan scheme to support the specialist infrastructure, facilities and equipment within FE.
  7. The Technology Strategy Board should review the take up of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and consider how providers can be encouraged to take up more of these.
  8. The Association of Colleges (AoC) and Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) should review the number of providers that offer business development services and the funding gained from these.
  9. AoC and AELP should develop a set of best practice guidelines for business development services offered by FE providers.
  10. The BIS Select Committee should consider the role of specialist providers in regional and local economic development.