Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands

Already on the road that the Commission on the #CollegeoftheFuture sets out for us 

As a big supporter of colleges, it a pleasure to welcome the publication of the UK-wide report of the Independent Commission of the College of the Future. The Commission sets out a bold ambition for colleges which I believe reflects their centrality to social and economic life.

And what perfect timing to be publishing a report that champions the key role for colleges than the week after Colleges Week 2020. Of course, every Colleges Week is an important time to reflect on the achievements and contributions colleges make in our communities and workplaces, but this year it feels even more important to say an enormous thank you to everyone working in colleges for everything they have done and are continuing to do to provide young people and adults with incredibly important support at this particularly difficult time.

Envisioning the 2030s and beyond, as the Commission challenges us to do, might seem like a daunting task when in the midst of an extraordinary set of day to day circumstances. But the last seven months or so have thrown into razor-sharp focus the Commission’s idea of colleges being essential local ‘anchor’ institutions. When asked to close their doors to all but vulnerable students and dependents of key workers, the pace at which colleges moved all teaching online was hugely impressive.

So too was the way I saw West Midlands colleges supporting local health efforts by manufacturing PPE, health and care teaching staff returning to the front-line and college facilities being made available to support front-line healthcare workers. And as we mark the launch of this important report, I want to record my thanks to colleges for re-opening safely which I know has been a challenge for everybody involved.

Colleges are for People, Productivity and Place

I am at one with the Commission’s overarching vision that colleges are for people, productivity and place. I can reflect confidently that we are already well on our way towards that vision in the West Midlands.

We work in tandem with the 20 colleges serving residents across Greater Birmingham and Solihull, Coventry and the Black Country. These colleges have come together under the mantle of Colleges West Midlands - a pioneering collaborative partnership that have worked closely with the West Midlands Combined Authority to develop and deliver the skills opportunities that our region needs.

The Commission highlights numerous areas where that strategic collaboration among colleges, providers, employers and local partners – working to respond to the needs of regional economies – is so important. Here in the West Midlands, we have developed regional strategies that reflect the needs of our area and the strengths of our industrial and skills base. And we have used our devolved powers to fund many hundreds of new learning opportunities – reflecting the needs of our local employers and communities.

These have been developed with colleges and employers, responding to current skills needs, innovating and sharing new curriculum, and partnering with other local agencies – such as JobCentres, Local Authorities and voluntary organisations, to ensure that we upskill all of our communities.

The Challenges of Devolution

The first year of devolution has been a challenge – but, even in these difficult times, we have seen an increase in provision leading to jobs, more high-level provision – at level 3 and 4, and more collaboration across colleges.

A good example of this is our Sector Work-based Academy Programmes being developed in priority sectors like digital, construction and health and care which will give people that are most economically vulnerable at this time the best chance of good secure employment in industries that are growing. You can see how new courses have been made available through the adult education budget and we are hard at work already on making a lifetime skills guarantee a reality in the region.

You can also see the sorts of longer-term strategic partnership working highlighted in the Commission’s report already taking shape in the West Midlands. Earlier this year, the region’s colleges came together to publish a Skills Capital Prospectus which took collaborative skills capital planning to a whole new level in ensuring the digital and physical resources the region’s students and apprentices have access to are industry-leading and are aligned to regional priorities.

It is one thing to believe in the key strategic role that colleges can play in any given place, but it’s quite another to put competition and organisational self-interest aside in the spirit of true partnership for the greater good of the community you serve. I am proud to say that in the West Midlands we are already on the road that the Commission on the College of the Future sets out for us.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands

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