Cash incentives for employers offering industry placements for T Level students could be back on the cards, according to a senior education minister.
The house of commons education committee met on Wednesday to quiz the further and higher education minister Michelle Donelan.
Topics ranged from a shortage of vets, social mobility and student loans in a hearing which somehow lasted for nearly 100 minutes despite only four of the 11 members of the committee showing up. Only one was not a Conservative.
The committee’s questioning around FE and skills included T Levels and the Treasury-led review of the apprenticeship levy.
Here are FE Week’s highlights from the session:
Placement flexibility would be ‘damaging’ for T Levels…
Concerns raised by South Essex College prompted their local MP, education committee member Anna Firth, to ask the minister if there could be more flexibilities around the 45-day industry placement element of T Levels.
Delivering placements at volume is “very, very difficult, particularly for small employers to cope with”, Firth said in her call for more give from the government.
“I think that will be quite damaging,” Donelan told the committee. “One of the key USPs of T Levels is the 45-day placement… I think it’s really important that we protect those 45 days,” she said.
…but more to come on financial incentives for employers
Firth wanted to know how the government was going to help remove the financial barriers preventing businesses, particularly SMEs, from offering industry placements for T Level students.
Employers of T Level students with placements taking place between May 27, 2021 and July 31, 2022 can claim a £1,000 payment for their troubles. “No extension will be made to this date”, government guidance states.
However the minister appeared to suggest that an extension or successor scheme to the current employer incentives would soon be announced.
“We’ve had a financial award of £1,000 for employers that take T Level students,” Donelan said, “and the future of that we will be announcing shortly.”
“I can’t say any more at this stage, but it is important that we don’t price employers out of having T Level students”.
Donelan dodges questions on Treasury-led levy review
Back in March, the government announced that the apprenticeship levy was being looked at by the Treasury. The chancellor said at the time that he wanted to make sure the levy was “doing enough to incentivise businesses to invest in the right kinds of training”.
However, faced with strong opposition from officials at the Department for Education, according to FE Week sources, the Treasury denied there was a “formal” review of the levy, despite the chancellor’s statement just days before.
There’s been very little said in public about the review-that’s-not-a-review since then.
At Wednesday’s committee session, chair Robert Halfon broke the silence and pressed Donelan to reveal her thoughts on how the levy could be improved.
The levy should, Halfon asserted, be reformed to boost higher apprenticeships, opportunities for young people and people from disadvantaged groups.
“Do you have any views?” Halfon pressed.
“I don’t really want to pre-empt the review,” Donelan dodged, only saying that the outcome of the Treasury’s review shouldn’t damage “the great progress that we’ve made on apprenticeships.”
The review is expected to conclude in time for the government’s budget statement this autumn.
Halfon: force universities to offer degree apprenticeships
Committee chair, Robert Halfon, well known for his passion for apprenticeships, managed to catch the otherwise well-rehearsed minister off-guard by asking for the number of people on degree apprenticeships who are from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“I can write to you with that figure. It’s not good enough,” Donelan replied.
Halfon went on to make the case for a new government target for universities to recruit 50 per cent of new students on to degree apprenticeships in the next ten years. The proposal was intensely resisted.
“I think the state needs to stop telling people what’s in their best interests,” Donelan exclaimed. But “the state tells universities to do loads of things, like on access plans,” Halfon countered, keen to agitate on this further.
“That’s very different from interfering in their curriculum” Donelan bit back, defending institutional autonomy.