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Level 4s and Level 5s are now Higher Technical Qualifications, Sector Response

Review reveals how Higher Technical Qualifications can lead to better wages and plug skills gaps

Damian Hinds has today (8 Jul) renamed Level 4 and Level 5 qualifications to Higher Technical Qualifications.

This is a part of 10-year ambition to upgrade the nation’s skills and to encourage more lifelong learning and CPD.

Today’s plans build on the action already underway to transform technical and vocational education in this country. This includes the introduction of new T Levels from 2020 – technical alternatives to A Levels – and the creation of more high- quality apprenticeship opportunities.

damian hinds100x100Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

“Employers across the country are crying out for more computer programmers, engineers, electricians and technicians in fields from advanced manufacturing to healthcare. But the evidence shows that despite these qualifications putting people in prime position to take advantage of that demand and the opportunities for better wages and better prospects – not enough people know about them.

“That needs to change. To help that change we need to make sure these courses are high quality, lead to good jobs and that people know about them. We can’t legislate for parity of esteem between academic and technical routes, but we can make sure the options out there are clear and high-quality so students and employers know and trust that they will give them the skills they need.”

This overhaul is part of Mr Hinds’ radical shake-up of technical and vocational education, so students and employers understand Higher Technical Qualifications and see them as high-quality and valued alternatives to a traditional academic route.

To boost uptake of these qualifications and ensure courses are high-quality the Government has outlined proposals including:

  • Reviewing Level 4 and 5 qualifications – ensuring they are of a high-quality and lead to well-paid jobs – and awarding a new quality mark for all approved Higher Technical Qualifications so students and employers can be confident courses provide the skills they need
  • Ensuring that approved Higher Technical Qualifications are only available with access to student finance at high-quality further and higher education providers – so that students know the qualifications they get from these institutions are prestigious and highly valued by employers
  • A new public campaign working alongside employers and careers advisers to showcase the benefits and the wide range of career opportunities that studying a Higher Technical Qualification can open up

So what does the sector think about the change from Level 4 and 5 to Higher Technical Qualifications?

Simon Nelson 100x100Simon Nelson, CEO, FutureLearn

“FutureLearn is heavily involved in several government initiatives to help address the skills gap and it is encouraging to see The Government further efforts to diversify pathways to learning with the announcement of the Higher Technical Qualifications.

“The £40M Institute of Coding (IoC), for example, aims to give the UK an edge in the global digital economy and help provide the over 500,000 computer scientists needed by 2022.

“The IoC is a collaboration between the UK Government, more than 60 universities, big players in the tech industry, SMEs, industry groups, experts in non-traditional learning and professional bodies. FutureLearn will deliver digital skills courses from the University of Leeds, University of Lancaster, Goldsmiths and the Creative Computing Institute at the University of Arts (UAL).

“Similarly, along with The Raspberry Pi Foundation, STEM Learning and the British Computer Society, we’re also involved in The Department for Education’s £78M National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) — an initiative to ensure every child in every school in England has access to a world-leading computing education. There are ambitious plans for FutureLearn to create 35 courses aimed at upskilling teachers on the frontline of computing education.”  

kirstie donnelly 100x100Kirstie Donnelly, Group Director, City & Guilds Group, said: 

“For too long, learning pathways and progression routes outside of the traditional ‘A Level to Degrees’ have been at worst maligned and ignored, and at best tolerated in the shadow of these more traditional routes. So the announcement this morning by the DfE that it is rebadging Level 4 and 5 qualifications as Higher Technical Qualifications is a welcome shift in focus to create a parity of esteem between academic and vocational / technical education.

“The UK is facing an urgent demand for technical skills to keep pace with rapid technological advances in industries such as energy, manufacturing and engineering. Our own research, People Power, found that almost 90% of employers are currently struggling to recruit people with the right skills for their businesses, which has serious implications for the future economic resilience of the country. We also find ourselves in a situation where too many young people are leaving higher education with debilitating debts and without the increased earnings and employment potential that their university education had promised. While university must remain one of the routes into work for many, we do need more people to be aware and be encouraged to choose technical qualifications – and so this move will go some way to highlight the diverse range of career choices they provide.

“But the Government’s skills policy can’t be created in a vacuum. We find ourselves here today in part because successive Governments have failed to learn important lessons about policy implementation. It would be useful at this point if the Government could benchmark some measures of success for technical qualifications, which could demonstrate their impact and go some way to improve their perceived standing in our society. As we know through our own work at City & Guilds Group, skills policy has the potential to transform the UK’s future. But we need evidence-based policy development and a transparent approach to measuring value in order to provide badly needed clarity.”

Stephen Evans Dec 2018 100x100Stephen Evans, Chief Executive from Learning and Work comments:

“With take up lower than in many other countries, the Government is right to focus on level 4 and 5 qualifications as a key way to increase our skills base. Ensuring people know how these qualifications can help their career aspirations and ensuring they are all of the highest quality can be positive first steps.

“But to make a difference we need a clear plan for how level 4 and 5 qualifications will work with T Levels and apprenticeships to provide clear progression routes, investment to support collaboration between Further and Higher Education and with employers, and to deliver the Augar Review’s recommendations of maintenance support to ensure people can access these opportunities.”

MarkDawe 100x100Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe says:


“To go alongside the paid job opportunities that higher level apprenticeships already provide, these classroom-based options should offer a welcome choice to suit different needs.”


Tom Bewick FAB 100x100Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) comments:

“The Federation welcomes the government’s focus on growing the availability of higher technical qualifications. Some of our members already offer valued and high-quality Level 4 and 5 qualifications in this space, which we believe should continue to have a role to play alongside any new developments. The important thing to recognise is that the UK’s productivity puzzle will not be solved by government seeking to second guess the labour market. Awarding Bodies, working with colleges and employers, already deliver significant expertise in designing curriculum and training courses to meet workforce needs. With the right financial investment and incentives — perhaps of the sort highlighted in the recent Augar Review —  we believe that lifelong learning could be made a reality. This should include encouraging those in the workforce who have not been to university, to re-train or to up-skill for the higher technical roles of the future.”

A Universities UK spokesperson said:Universities UK 100

“Government, higher & further education and employers must work together to ensure opportunity for learners of all ages to upskill and progress at levels 4 and 5 – this will be important in meeting the future skills needs of the country and closing the skills gap. Universities have a central role to play in providing high quality technical qualifications and apprenticeships, which can act as standalone qualification in their own right or a route to higher level skills. Universities also have long-standing links with employers, offering industry placements or work experience on many courses.

“UUK welcomed the recent post-18 review’s focus on strengthening levels 4 and 5 and we will shortly be launching a project to examine how the higher education sector can help realise the opportunities in this area. This builds on previous work we have undertaken to see how universities can meet the needs of employers through bolstering flexible learning.”

mike cherry 100x100Federation of Small Businesses National Chairman Mike Cherry said:

“We welcome the findings of this review into higher technical qualifications. It’s vital for future generations and for the economy, that education and training at all levels are readily accessible. Small firms tell us that technical skills are the most important skillset to achieving future growth. However, many small businesses are still unaware of the potential training possibilities that are available to meet the technical skills gaps they face. We want to work with the Government to change this.”

Lord Sainsbury 100x100Lord Sainsbury of Turville, chair of the Independent Panel on Technical Education, said:

“In the word’s best technical education systems, higher technical qualifications play an essential role in equipping people with the skills that modern industry and business need. In England, however, this ‘missing middle’ of technical education has been neglected for decades. As a result, we now see a significant mismatch between the skills that our economy needs and the qualifications on offer.

“I warmly welcome these plans for reform. Qualifications bearing the new, government-backed quality-mark will have met employer standards, be taught in excellent institutions and align with apprenticeships. In this way, employers and students alike can be confident that they have real value in the labour market.”

Chris Millward 100x100Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the Office for Students, said:

“We have been pleased to work with the government on these proposals from an early stage, sharing evidence and insights on the motivations, experience and outcomes of students in a less heralded part of higher education.

“There is a pressing need to develop more diverse routes through post-18 education. This is important to improve choice for students – particularly those who want to study in their local area or alongside work, who are often the most disadvantaged. These qualifications may also prove a key piece in the jigsaw for local and national prosperity, given many employers’ urgent need for higher-level technical skills.”

Graham Hasting Evans Jan19 100x100Graham Hasting-Evans, Group Managing Director, NOCN, said:

“The digital and AI revolution will have profound implications for the economy and jobs. As a result, many forecasters have indicated that there will be a major increase in demand for people with Level 4 and 5 skills over the next 5 to 10 years. At present these are in short supply and we clearly have a ‘missing middle’, where until now there was  a considerable gap in policy in this part of the skills eco-system.

“As an education and skills charity championing upskilling for re-deployment, NOCN welcomes the Government’s consultation document on Level 4 and 5 Higher Technical Education. Certainly, some of the proposals appear very good, but the devil is always in the detail so it will give us all something to get our heads around over the Summer break.”

Natural progression route to better wages and skills

Higher Technical Qualifications will provide a natural progression route for young people taking new T Levels from 2020 or A Levels (Level 3) enabling them to take the next step up and gain higher technical skills in key subjects like STEM.

Level 4 and 5 qualifications – lesser known qualifications that sit between A Level (Level 3) and degrees (Level 6), such as CertHE, DipHE and foundation degrees – will be rebadged as Higher Technical Qualifications and quality approved, in a drive to attract more students to study them.

Despite OECD research “Skills beyond School” showing Higher Technical Qualifications can lead to better wages and provide the skills in demand in the future job market, only around 1 in 10 adults in England hold them – one of the lowest rates in the OECD.

Of the 4,000 qualifications offered, research shows that over 40% of these only have 5 students or even fewer on them, despite research which revealed that students who gain these qualifications in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects can earn up to £5,000 more a year than people with degrees from many universities.

The CBI have predicted that in 5 years’ time almost half (47%) of all employment will be in management, professional and technical roles – boosting demand for the specialist skills that Higher Technical Qualifications provide.

Higher technical courses are offered at universities, FE colleges and National Colleges

These include the London South Bank University and the National College for Nuclear.

The Government’s network of Institutes of Technology – unique collaborations between universities, FE colleges, and leading employers – will also specialise in delivering quality Higher Technical Qualifications and training in STEM subjects, such as digital, advanced manufacturing and engineering that will provide employers with the skilled workforce they need.

The Level 4 and 5 review will complement the Government’s Post-18 review, to ensure the system is joined up, accessible to all and encourages the development of the skills the country needs. This is central to the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy, which aims to make sure everyone is equipped for the jobs of the future.

The Government is also reviewing post-16 qualifications at Level 3 and below to make sure that all qualifications taken by students are high quality and lead to employment or further study.

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