Paul Cox, Chief Executive and Principal, Eastleigh College

For too long, College or University, vocational or academic, skills or degrees have been seen as competing alternatives for most post-16 learners that in reality begins at age 13-14 with GCSE options. This ‘choice’ is not new, not a result of Labours 50% HE target, but a multi-generational reality whereby higher education is intrinsically linked to aspiration and ambition. I’ve experienced this personally whereby from the start of secondary school (30 years and at least two generations ago) my late grandfather was passionate about me becoming the first member of our family to study at university.

Complementary core ambitions that are commendable 

We now currently have Sainsbury and Augar as the latest reviews of post-16, and post-18. Both have complementary core ambitions that are commendable. Colleges will grow higher level provision, and Universities could be funded at different rates for provision that is aligned to economic need. It is hoped and anticipated that the policies and laws that ultimately stem from these reviews will have a positive impact on the ‘system’ that benefits both learners and employers. However, the current focus on the economic impact directly ‘caused’ by education is likely to have future unintended consequences. For example, how will UK PLC develop creative and innovative thinkers? And how will individuals who have been trained for a specific role be able to transition between roles four to five times in their career?

How will UK PLC develop creative and innovative thinkers? And how will individuals transition between roles four to five times in their career?

Despite the cross-party basis of Sainsbury and Augar we are probably now only five years away from the next reviews. The [insert name] review of post-16, followed the [insert name] review of post-18 will likely be undertaken after the next election when we will all have begun to truly understand the impact of Brexit and how the pandemic has shaped ways of working across the economy. Following the next reviews there will almost certainly be ‘new’ priorities and a shift in focus - change being constant is the one certainty in education!

Therefore, the fundamental question and challenge for further and higher education is not about today and tomorrow’s policy and funding, but rather how both systems can work together permanently and be ‘hard-wired’ to be mutually beneficial partners for generations to come. The five points below are some initial thoughts as to how permanence could be achieved and mutual benefit achieved – none are reliant on external factors such as policy and funding reform.

How both FE and HE systems can work together permanently and be ‘hard-wired’ to be mutually beneficial partners for generations to come: 

  1. Both further and higher education have similar structures and needs. As such leaders at colleges and universities serving as governors at partner organisations is an opportunity that can achieve a wider system representation at board level. At Eastleigh we currently benefit from having senior leaders from three universities in governance positions at the College. In addition, I am a co-opted member on the board of Solent University.
  1. Through the establishment of formal accords and pathways the transition of learners from further and higher education can be optimised and facilitated, particularly for adult learners given the vast majority of 18–19-year-olds who choose to continue their studies at university progress to HE through UCAS. I recently had the privilege of leading our annual learner awards ceremony and could not have been prouder when speaking to award recipients about their progression plans. Many had jobs and apprenticeships, the remainder were progressing to university – our winners truly epitomised the best of lifelong learning and whilst this will be common in colleges across the country extending formal arrangements for the benefit of learners is a win-win for both FE and HE alike.
  1. All further and higher education institutions seek to grow their provision. Universities have expertise that can enable colleges to develop new HE provision and / or support the evolution of existing provision to better meet the needs and ambitions of learners. This co-developed provision can better facilitate progression and support the transition of college learners to complete their degrees through ‘top-ups’ delivered at university.
  1. Employers often cite the difficulties in engaging with education with education providers. Complexity, differences in languages and funding are too often seen as barriers for employers seeking train staff and succession plan. Clearly defined documentation written specifically for employers by staff from FE and HE can be a first step to addressing this barrier. Linked here is an example developed with Colleges and universities from across the Solent which was developed in direct response to questions posed at an employer forum. Linked here is a sector specific example, which was again developed in direct response to employer feedback.
  1. Joint communication and promotion between colleges and universities is essential to ensure that politicians and officials understand the breadth of collaboration and cooperation between institutions traditionally seen as post-16 and post-18. Strong communication and promotion will reduce the likelihood of falsehoods and negative assumptions being made by those outside of the ‘system’. Championing the benefits of partnership for learners, communities and employers is a responsibility of all of us and will underpin generational partnership irrespective of review, policy and funding.

This year Eastleigh College turns 60, in that time the country has had 29 Ministers of Education, or Secretaries of State for Education. When Eastleigh College turns 100 it is probable that around 50 ministers, or secretaries of state will have held the education portfolio. The next 40 years will see some new challenges emerge; however, many challenges will be similar in some way to those faced in the past. The ‘system’ will be best placed to face these challenges, as well as harness future opportunities if strong and enduring partnerships are formed between further and higher education. By continually strengthening the ‘system’ learners and employers will benefit for generations to come.

Paul Cox, Chief Executive and Principal, Eastleigh College

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