Policy Exchange has done it again. Probably the most influential of our current crop of think tanks, Policy Exchange published an interesting report that grabbed the headlines last month.

Higher, Further, Faster, More: Improving Higher Level Professional and Technical Education proposed switching more than £500 million of government spending from HE to FE.

This went down like a lead balloon in HE circles. The HE community argued that the current funding regime worked just fine and to add insult to injury the authors had got some numbers wrong.

Such a reaction is to be expected. Making a case for HE to raid its reserves in order to promote widening participation in HE while using the BBC as an example of how an existing public body has had to take on government decreed activity (paying for free TV licences for the over 75s out of its own cash in the BBC's case) has sent shudders down the spines of every Vice Chancellor in the land.

So does this mean a windfall for FE from the comprehensive spending review (CSR)? With local area reviews expected to save the same amount (£500 million) from college mergers and resource sharing is this the quid pro quo BiS wants to make with the Treasury? Well perhaps. The politics of this report are interesting.

For Nick Boles, the current Skills Minister, helped establish Policy Exchange and was its first Director. He remains close to the institution. Publishing such a report, a month before the CSR is due, helpfully flies some kites and stirs up the debate around who gets what.

On one interpretation this could mean that Mr Boles, has been convinced that FE provides the skills solution to the productivity conundrum the Chancellor has identified as the number one economic priority for this Parliament.

As the above report says, HE institutions measure themselves against the litmus test of academic rigour and research. Sure they work with employers but that isn't their raison d'etre. Asking HE to get stuck into providing higher technical and professional skills will flounder on the rocks of their research prejudices and priorities.

FE on the other hand, the report argues, often has better working relationships with employers and its output is aligned to getting students into jobs as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Indeed these are often the very employers who will be needed to co-produce more and better skills solutions that will help close the productivity gap.

Advertisement

On another interpretation it may mean that the opposite is true – that Nick Boles and his officials are desperate for HE to step up and deliver; that they are unconvinced that FE alone, or FE at all, is equipped to do the job required and need HE to face up to the challenge and seize the opportunity the productivity gap offers.

On one cynical interpretation local area reviews are nothing more than a ground clearing exercise for HE.

I think the truth is likely to be less stark and more nuanced. If I am reading this right, and I admit I may well not be, I think the Government and our skills minister are completely relaxed about which type of institution might dominate the delivery of higher professional and technical skills.

The experiment in the schools sector has seen a plethora or new institutions (academies, free schools and University Technical Colleges) spring up offering alternatives and 'competition' to the state sector.

In order to solve the productivity puzzle, consortia of FE and HE institutions are likely to emerge. Some FE groups will dominate in some areas. In others it is likely to be more HE led.

Outcomes will differ from area to area depending on the current institutional mix. What is not negotiable is that the Government wants to see more higher technical and professional skills delivery. They want the hour glass labour market to return to being a pint pot labour market with a rich supply of intermediate and technical level jobs. And to achieve this they need employers to engage.

Whichever institutional model engages best to get employers spending on skills will end up dominating the market. This is a rich opportunity for FE. If HM Treasury agree with the analysis carefully constructed by the authors of the Policy Exchange report, then FE may receive an unexpected windfall when least expecting it. Indeed there is some evidence that HM Treasury believes the HE sector has been feather bedded in recent times and is due a shot across the bows. It may be the case Nick Boles has become an FE enthusiast. It may not. Whatever emerges from the CSR the opportunity remains for FE to become the productivity sector – preeminent in engaging employers to invest more in the skills that will make Britain a more productive, and ultimately wealthier, economy and society. For if the productivity gap isn't closed then the Prime Minister's and Chancellor's dreams of a high pay, low welfare, low tax economy will fail to become a reality. And if that happens Ministers heads will roll.

Nick Isles is deputy principal and chief executive of Milton Keynes College

You may also be interested in these articles:

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Advertisers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page