From education to employment

Labour Party manifesto round-up for FE, employability and skills

Further and higher education is fundamental to our national prosperity. To compete in the global marketplace, especially the highly skilled marketplace of tomorrow, it is essential that the skills of the British workforce match those of other nations across the world. The demand for high level skills is strong and growing, and the supply of good graduates is an increasingly important factor in global economic competition. Enabling our people to gain the skills they need is essential if we want to secure the jobs of the future.

In our manifesto we guarantee every young person education or training until 18, with 75% going on to higher education, or training to at least level three, by the age of 30.

Rightly, people say, this is an ambitious target – can you achieve it? The answer is yes; because we have already delivered so much. With Labour we have more young people in education and training at 16 and 17 than at any time before – with record numbers studying at school or college and in apprenticeships.

In 1997 the number of people undertaking an apprenticeship had withered to around 65,000. In contrast, this year, thanks to record, sustained funding more than a quarter of a million people will start apprenticeship course – many times more than in 1997; there are 339,000 more students in higher education and the participation rate for young people from the most disadvantaged areas has increased every year since 2004. Both the Lib Dems and Tories have derided our aspiration that over 50% of young people should go on to higher education and yet recent figures now show that, for the first time in our history over 45% of young people going to university and, for the first time, over 50% of all young women now go.

Because we understand that our modern economy needs a generation of young people equipped with the technical skills businesses need, we announced the creation of a new technical class in our ‘Skills for Growth Strategy last year. Building on this commitment, just last week we announced a new entitlement to an advanced apprenticeship for those under 25 who have completed an apprenticeship at a lower level and that we will increase the numbers of advanced apprenticeships for young adults aged over 19 to 70,000 by 2012.

This is what a Labour government can achieve, working with business and the further and higher education sectors.

To support our guarantee for young people, particularly during the downturn, we have legislated to raise the education and training leaving age: ensuring that by 2015 all young people aged 16 and 17 will be in training, education or an apprenticeship. In addition we are:

  • Committed to retaining the Education Maintenance Allowance – helping over 500,000 young people stay on in education who otherwise would not be able to afford to
  • Committed to providing an entitlement to an apprenticeship place in 2013 for all suitably qualified 16-18 year olds; and
  • Committed to continuing to invest in workplace training through Train to Gain which has enabled over 1million workers to improve their skills and improved workplace productivity of thousands of large and small businesses all over the UK – not scrap it as the Tories would do

As well as providing;

  • 400,000 apprenticeships by 2020
  • 1,000 apprenticeship scholarships for the best apprentices to go on to Higher Education
  • 70,000 more advanced apprenticeships available for young adults by 2012
  • £175 million over two years to fund up to 120,000 training opportunities for young people unemployed for six months or more
  • 29,000 graduate-level volunteering places
  • 3,000 extra places for graduate entrepreneurship and help with business start-ups
  • 10,000 undergraduate internships

We are also determined to end the damaging divide between academic and vocational learning which is why we have established the 14-19 Diploma which combines theoretical study with practical experience.

It is right that, like other publicly funded bodies, universities had to make their fair share of savings, but we are determined that they should only shoulder their fair share and that tough economic times will not damage our aim of securing opportunities for the young people of our country and the jobs of the future in the areas where we know the UK can succeed and prosper. This is why last year we allowed universities to recruit 10,000 extra university students in key areas our economy needs – in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. And this is why we have provided universities with the £270m Modernisation Fund to enable them to identify and deliver efficiencies over the next four years. The fund also provides funding to enable a further 20,000 students to be recruited next year responding to the unprecedented demand that exists today for university places and building further towards our 50% aspiration.

The review of higher education funding chaired by Lord Browne will report later this year. Our aim is to continue the expansion of higher education, widening access still further, while ensuring that universities and colleges have a secure, long-term funding base that protects world-class standards in teaching and research.

There is a choice at this election. Between a Labour party that is embracing the challenges of the future and setting challenging but achievable targets to support and expand opportunities for young people; and a Conservative party that would repeat the mistakes of the recession of the 1980s and 1990s when a generation of young people were left on the scrap heap. We shouldn’t forget that apprenticeships under the last Tory government were allowed to wither. Over the last decade, we have rebuilt and renewed the vast majority of the further education college estate, meaning almost every community has excellent quality resources in their neighbourhood, under the Tories in 1997 the budget for further education capital was £0. The Tories won’t back our funding for our guarantee of a place in training or education for young people leaving school at 16 or 17 and they would abandon the national goal of getting half of young people into Higher Education.

Labour is building a world class education system, backing it with the investment needed to ensure that young people have the skills to compete for the jobs in the global economy of the future.

We have made huge progress in the last decade, but the policies of the Conservatives – in scrapping train to gain, in their opposition to the funding for schemes which have meant thousands of young people affected by the recession – put that progress at risk. For the sake of our future, the risk the Tories pose is one that our country cannot afford.

Kevin Brennan is the Labour spokesman for Innovation, Universities and Skills

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