Skills reform

DfE finally publishes ‘interim’ response to Augar Review

The Department for Education has finally published its initial response to Philip Augar’s review of Post-18 Education and Funding, almost two years after it was launched.

It is worth noting, however, that this is an “interim” response and the final conclusion will not be set out until the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

Much of the response reiterates plans outlined in the FE white paper, which you can read about here.

Here are the key things you need to know from the Augar response.


Lifelong loan entitlement to create ‘a flexible system’

Augar’s (pictured) report recommended the introduction of a “lifelong learning loan allowance” to be used at higher technical and degree level at any stage of an adult’s career for full and part time students.

As part of the prime minister’s lifetime skills guarantee, the DfE has committed to moving to a system where everyone has a “lifelong loan entitlement” from 2025, giving them access to the equivalent of four years of post-18 education.

The DfE claims this entitlement, to be consulted on in “early 2021”, will enable universities and colleges to provide a more “modular” offer.


New ‘Local Skills Improvement Plans’ to align courses to employer needs

The Augar report made clear that it was vital for post-18 provision to address labour market needs.

The DfE said it is their “vision” for the “substantial majority” of post-16 technical and Higher Technical Education to be aligned to employer-led standards by the end of this decade.

The department will also give employers a “central role” in shaping the technical skills provision offered in local areas beginning with Trailblazer areas where accredited Chambers of Commerce, and other business representative organisations, will “work with further education colleges and other providers to develop new Local Skills Improvement Plans”.

As per the white paper, these plans will be created by employers and providers, with the employers setting out a “credibly articulated and evidence-based assessment of skills needs to which providers will be empowered to respond”.

The DfE intends to legislate to put the employer leadership of Local Skills Improvement Plans on a statutory footing, “strengthening the voice of employers in local skills systems across the country”.


Rebalancing from academic to technical education

The DfE says it aims to create a “system whereby the quality of our technical and academic education is on a par, and the two are equally accessible.

“We want every student with the aptitude and desire to go to university to be able to do so and we want technical, employer-centric training to be a viable option for many more people.”

In 2018, the department announced plans to overhaul qualifications at levels 4 and 5 and create a “new generation” of courses at these levels.

The DfE said today that this “approved Higher Technical Qualifications offer” is a “high-quality prestigious alternative to the traditional full-length academic degree model” and will “ensure that everyone, no matter where in the country they are based, has access to the same quality of qualification and to equally good outcomes”.

They added that T Levels, rolled out for the first time in September 2020, will also help “close the gap” between academic and technical education.


Reforming skills funding

The DfE intends to make reforms to funding across the sectors in order to enable a “new, flexible, fairer system”.

The Augar response reiterates that as well as the lifelong loan entitlement, the department is making investments in further education “to ensure that public money is spent on high quality education and training that leads to good outcomes”.

“This includes a £400 million increase in 16-19 funding at Spending Review 2019, and a £291 million increase to 16 to 19 funding at Spending Review 2020. We have also committed to invest £1.5 billion of capital funding to refurbish the further education estate.”

The Augar report also highlighted the “significant, and growing, taxpayer subsidy in the higher education student finance system”. The DfE therefore intends to “freeze the maximum tuition fee cap to deliver better value for students and to keep the cost of higher education under control”.

This will initially be for one year and further changes to the student finance system will be considered ahead of the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

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