How Labour can seize the opportunity on tertiary education

A quasi market and siloed thinking have failed us – institutions must work together, say Prof David Phoenix and Dame Ann Limb

A quasi market and siloed thinking have failed us – institutions must work together, say Prof David Phoenix and Dame Ann Limb

29 Jun 2024, 5:00

Consensus is emerging around moving towards a tertiary system for post-compulsory education. However, while much ink has been spilled on the potential benefits of closer links between industry, further and higher education, much less has been said about how we might bring such a system into effect. 

To effectively meet the needs of individuals, businesses and society, we must consider regulation, process, funding and the role of individual  institutions in a holistic fashion. In other words, an integrated tertiary system will not come about organically through our current approach of ad hoc collaborations within an otherwise competitive quasi-market. 

Since 2007, more than 200 sixth forms have emerged, coinciding with a decline in numbers at FE colleges. At the same time, a range of new universities and ‘alternative providers’ have arisen and around 11 colleges and four college groups (comprising 19 individual institutions) have acquired degree-awarding powers.

A further 130+ colleges are registered with the Office for Students to deliver validated provision on behalf of a university. They are likely to be joined by a swathe of independent training providers once  the new registration category comes into play for the delivery of smaller technical qualifications funded by the Lifelong Loan Entitlement. 

These changes, along with the plethora of qualifications in existence, mean that the post-compulsory landscape is riddled with complexity, duplication and redundancy.

This lack of national planning results in significant regional variations. Millions are left behind in educational cold spots like Boston, where only 23 per cent of the resident workforce hold higher education qualifications and less than half (47 per cent) have post-16 qualifications. In other regions more than 60 per cent of the workforce are qualified at Level 4 or above.  

If we define a system as a set of institutions working together as parts of an  interconnecting network, it is clear we don’t currently have a functional educational system in England.

The quasi market and siloed thinking of those delivering post-16 education and training – whether its FE, HE, sixth forms or independent training providers – prevents the development of novel solutions to address local skills shortages in a collaborative fashion. So too do our funding and regulatory regimes, which simply don’t support cross-sector innovation. 

The post-compulsory landscape is riddled with complexity

Should the polls prove to be correct, the Labour Party will soon have a mandate to make significant changes; we are pleased to see many indications in their manifesto that they intend to do so.

These include commitments to establish a new Skills England body, further devolve adult skills funding to combined authorities and to transform FE colleges into specialist technical excellence colleges. Pleasingly, the manifesto also proposes to create a post-16 skills strategy to better integrate further and higher education. 

As ever, the devil will be in the detail when it comes implementing these ideas.

Enabling colleges to specialise, for example, is a positive proposal. However, if some are to focus on ‘technical excellence’, surely others should be supported to focus on gateway provision. After all, there are nine million working-age adults with low basic skills and many others who wish to acquire new skills to change careers.

Other colleges will also have existing specialisms (such as land provision) or emerging ones (such as creative technology). These should be recognised and encouraged to develop if they meet local learner and employer need.  

It will be the job of Skills England (via cross-departmental working) to set the national framework through which combined authorities determine how education and training can best be delivered at a local level. It will first need to decide where the boundaries should be drawn across overlapping sixth form, college and university delivery within regions – a thorny task.

In the hope of contributing to thinking through some of the detail around this vision, we are pleased to be working with Universities UK to consider how different institutions might play their part in a tertiary landscape.

We are keen to ensure that the FE sector’s views are reflected. Therefore, if you have thoughts on how a tertiary system might be constituted – including what its components should be and what existing barriers will need to be overcome – then we would encourage you to get in touch.

To contribute your views, email info@universitiesuk.ac.uk 

Latest education roles from

Assistant Director: Apprenticeship Development and Employer Engagement | Birmingham City University

Assistant Director: Apprenticeship Development and Employer Engagement | Birmingham City University

Birmingham City University

Lecturer A Supported Internship Tutor

Lecturer A Supported Internship Tutor

Bolton College

Sessional Lecturer / Teacher / Assessor

Sessional Lecturer / Teacher / Assessor

Merton College

Stained Glass Variable Hours Tutor

Stained Glass Variable Hours Tutor

Richmond and Hillcroft Adult & Community College

Secondary Higher Level Teaching Assistant

Secondary Higher Level Teaching Assistant

Ark John Keats Academy

Principal & Chief Executive Officer

Principal & Chief Executive Officer

Stoke on Trent College

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

#GE2024: Listen now as Let’s Go Further outlines the FE and skills priorities facing our new government

The Skills and Education Group podcast, Let’s Go Further, aims to challenge the way we all think about skills...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, colleges and schools can be confident that learners...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

Why we’re backing our UK skills ‘Olympians’ (and why you should too)

This August, teams from over 200 nations will gather to compete in the sticky heat of the Paris summer...

Advertorial
Sponsored post

Is your organisation prepared for a major incident?

We live in an unpredictable world where an unforeseen incident or environmental event could disrupt a Further Education (FE)...

Advertorial

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *