Regardless of which party wins the general election, there will be many challenges to face in the next Parliament: Brexit negotiations, lagging productivity levels, skills gaps in key industries—these challenges are considerable, but by no means insurmountable. Yet It is important to recognise that if these issues are to be met head on, the FE sector will need to play a key role in shaping the solutions. Further Education can drive the creation of a modern, highly skilled workforce; the sector, with its strong relationships with local communities, employers and government, is uniquely able to leverage its expertise and talent in the service of creating a more productive and prosperous United Kingdom.
To succeed we see 5 key considerations for the next Government in relation to the FE and skills sector.
- The need to ensure that FE can support our exit from the EU
In our Collab Group Point of View on Brexit, we argued that if freedom of movement of EU27 Nationals within the UK was restricted, then the FE sector would play an indispensable role in training British workers across both high and low skilled occupations. Widening skills gaps were already an issue prior to the referendum, but with so much uncertainty around the rights of EU27 members to live and work in the UK, the challenges have only become more acute. Our colleges can work to deliver the highly skilled training that the UK economy needs as set out in the Industrial Strategy and FE is uniquely placed to develop solutions to some of the most difficult challenges arising from our departure from the EU.
- To maintain commitments to Technical and Professional Education reform
The findings of the Sainsbury Review, which proposed the creation of T-levels and 15 technical routes for vocational and technical education, has been met with wide support both inside and outside the sector. Whilst there are still crucial details about the implementation of the reforms, notably the content and progression routes around the proposed “transition year”, the spirit and substance of the reforms are welcome, and should be carried through to the next Parliament.
- Institutes of Technology to be up and running in the next Parliament
The Governments Industrial Strategy green paper contained provisions for £170 million of capital funding to be made available to implement Institutes of Technology. IoTs would-be employer-led with a STEM focus and operating on a hub and spoke model. The distinct advantage of the IoT model is that they would be able to leverage existing asset bases rather than creating a brand-new institution from the ground up. We would hope that the next Government maintains a commitment to their funding and that FE remains at the heart of Government policy; we would hope to see these up and running in the next Parliament.
- To continue with the devolution of skills policy to English Regions
Following the recent election of new Metro Mayors, local control over skills policy will be increasingly important. We see the future direction of travel towards the creation of new regional college groupings, which have the potential to provide increased stability within the sector. Skills devolution can leverage all actors within a local system in pursuit of a more effective and regionally aligned skills system and so the next government should work to devolve greater powers over skills to English regions.
- Allow colleges to embrace more commercial business models
A key part of ensuring the sector remains responsive and stable is allow colleges to form new operating structures where there is a clear business need to do so. The next Government should work with colleges to remove existing restrictions that make it harder for colleges to be able to operationalise commercial groups structures.
Ian Pretty, CEO, Collab Group