Derby College Group’s historic Roundhouse campus was chosen by the Prime Minister’s Office to host the announcement of a major review into post-18 education. Here, DCG’s chief executive Mandie Stravino reacts to the announcement and explains why the involvement of FE is a crucial part of the overall review

When we were approached by the Department for Education and the Prime Minister’s Office to host the announcement, we were surprised, as it is unusual for something of this magnitude to happen at a college.

But I think that it recognises the broad range of high-quality work that the FE sector provides and the positive impact that it has on social mobility across our communities.

The fact that Derby is one of the government’s opportunity areas, which focus on increasing social mobility through improvements in education, made it even more pertinent.

It also raised the profile of the breadth, flexibility and vocational strength of the higher education offer from the FE sector, which is too often invisible to potential learners and the wider outside world.

FE’s specialisms and proven expertise in technical/vocational routes are further expanded at higher education level and should not be underestimated

The reality is that colleges’ HE offers provide incredible technical options and affordable alternatives to people at whatever stage of life, whether they are looking to enter the workplace or progress their careers.

Following the announcement, three of our HE students, who are combining work with studying, had the opportunity to meet the PM. They have come to us from a mixture of employers from SMEs to global engineering companies – all of which are the bedrock of our regional economy.

The students articulated superbly the value they are gaining from the tripartite relationship between the individual, the employer and the college, which has enabled them to benefit from HE while working.

All three are studying qualifications that are relevant to their current jobs and their career aspirations. Their employers recognise the benefit of highly-skilled staff who have the drive and ambition to contribute to their own growth through the skills that they learn.

The broad range of offer through FE effectively enables young people of all abilities – even those who join us at basic entry level – to be inspired and flourish, and to work their way through to degree level work.

The fees we charge make HE accessible, including those young people wanting to stay closer to home, and to those who come to us while employed, who have the added advantage of earning as they learn and not incurring debt as they may have done through going the university route.

Mrs May spoke at length of the need to give the same recognition and value of vocational/technical higher education as academic routes.

FE’s specialisms and proven expertise in technical/vocational routes are further expanded at higher education level and should not be underestimated by this review.

I applaud the fact that the government is prepared to review post-18 education as a whole – whether at college or university – and recognise that, together, the system has something for everyone.

I would also urge the reviewers to include employer feedback, as it is employers who sponsor many students in FE.

We work with around 3,000 local, regional and national employers in a number of ways – including the co-design and co-delivery or our curriculum – whether it’s full-time, part-time or work-based, or an apprenticeship.

By listening to and working alongside employers, we ensure that our curriculum is responsive and relevant to the skills required by businesses and organisations both now and in the future.

Let us hope that the broad scope of this review will take all aspects of higher education into consideration including apprenticeships, access and foundation courses – recognising that all routes are valuable, will provide the skills needed by employers, and give everyone the opportunity to realise their career ambitions.

FE continues to have a vitally important role to play in this debate and, by actively participating in the review, this is an opportunity for the sector to gain the recognition it deserves.

Mandie Stravino is CEO of Derby College Group