The current education funding system places a strong emphasis on higher education learning, with streamlined and well-detailed funding options available for prospective students. The same cannot be said for those learners who wish to pursue a vocational or technical training course and this has led to a two-tiered system for academic learning.
Today’s (19 Feb) announcement from Theresa May on a proposed year-long independent review of fees and student finance, and Government plans to give vocational training an equal footing, has been cautiously welcomed by VTCT.
Alan Woods OBE, CEO of Vocational Training Charitable Trust (VTCT) said:
“Higher and further education funding is causing a multitude of issues, and we cautiously welcome the Government’s pledge to carry out an independent review. However, there is still a lack of focus on the needs of further education learners and the benefits which vocational and technical training provides to businesses and the wider economy. The Prime Minister today has noted that the route into further technical and vocational training is confusing, and for many of our VTCT learners across the country, this confusion often presents a real barrier to furthering their career aspirations.
“We would like to see the review focus on creating an education system which balances the strengths of both higher and further education, and this will be a real litmus tests of the Government’s commitments to increasing the number of skills-based learners, enabling variety for higher education learners, and supporting apprentices.”
Dr Fiona Aldridge, Assistant Director at Learning and Work Institute, said:
“While much of the media attention will be focused on university fees, we are pleased that this review will seek to cover the whole post-18 education system, across both further and higher education. It is vital to establish a coherent and accessible system of tertiary education if we are to make the most of the talents of all our young people and of adults of all ages.
"The evidence is clear: investing in education and skills boosts prosperity, promotes inclusion and creates opportunity. Yet, despite this, there has been substantial reductions in funding for further education in recent years, along with a collapse in adult participation in both further and higher education.
"It is imperative that this decline is reversed. As such, we believe that the success of the review should be judged on whether it leads to the creation of a coherent, flexible and high-quality offer for those aged 18 and over, to develop their skills and improve their prospects throughout their lives.”
Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said:
“I am pleased to hear the Prime Minister set out her continuing commitment to access and participation today. There are record numbers of young, full-time students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education. But we are a long way from achieving truly equal access, so now is not the time for universities and colleges to scale down their investment in this area. In particular, I hope that this funding review will work to understand why the current system doesn’t seem to be working as well for mature and part-time students, whose numbers have dropped drastically in recent years and show no sign of recovering.”
Simon Kelleher, Head of Education & Skills at think tank Policy Connect, said:
“We welcome the review of post-18 education and funding by the government. Our research has shown that educational funding structures are impacting the choices available to students, with HEI funding causing a ‘one size fits all’ approach to HE courses. There is also a clear need to improve careers information and guidance at school with FE routes in mind – including allowing students to meet with and learn about local businesses.
"We are also pleased to see that the review will consider the needs of those retraining throughout their careers, for which we recommended the piloting of learning accounts to support workers and employers to save towards training costs and pilot new funding mechanisms for training the over-50s.”
Ahead of the full review, and responding to announcements made by the government on its plans for HE funding, Rt Hon. David Laws, Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said:
"The government needs to rescue its post 18 funding review from the major risk that it builds expectations of a significant and politically inspired cut to tuition fees, which would largely benefit higher earning graduates and do precious little to improve the UK's social mobility, or our low skills post 16.
"The prize here is the opportunity to improve the funding of post 18 technical education, possibly by squeezing the funding of the lower cost courses currently subsidised by £9,250 fees. Students also need much better information about the economic consequences of the courses and institutions which they select".
In response to the Prime Minister’s announcement on the education funding review, David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said:
“The post-18 review announced today by the Prime Minister is significant because it will consider all the learning opportunities needed for a fair society, a strong economy and for lifelong learning to become a reality. Her comments on “outdated attitudes” towards technical qualifications is something we’ve been saying for a long time. This is welcome news for colleges, who support young people and adults to progress in their learning to higher levels, both through their own courses and at universities.
“The growth in higher education numbers and the widened access has almost exclusively been for young people taking traditional three-year undergraduate degrees. Colleges play an important part in helping young people access these opportunities. That’s good news for our economy and for society and must not be damaged going forward.
“However, that growth has been at the expense of adequate and fair investment in the 50% of people who leave education at 18 and who want to study to higher levels later. Their opportunities have been hampered because of the lack of attention, leading to fewer chances, less funding and a lack of support for them to learn whilst working.
“The review will be a difficult balancing act. It would be wrong to damage the growth in the numbers of young people accessing three-year undergraduate degrees, however, more investment is needed to make other forms of higher education more attractive and more accessible. Colleges support more than 150,000 people to study to sub-degree and degree level and with the right support and investment this number could be much higher. That would mean more adults able to improve their work and life prospects by studying in their own community while working and dealing with other commitments such as caring.
“We are delighted the Prime Minister chose Derby College as the venue for this important speech. This is a college which has a fine tradition of supporting people to study to higher levels through the full range of routes. It is also a college that could do so much more for more people with the right investment.”
A Spokesperson for The Careers & Enterprise company, said:
"The young people with whom we work at The Careers & Enterprise company face a dizzying range of options as they prepare to leave school or college. If they choose university, they also face the prospect of significant debt.
"We must make sure that all of the education options available to young people are of the highest quality and offer the best possible return on their investment of time and money. For this reason, we welcome today’s announcement of a review.
"We must also make sure that young people have access to the best available information to inform their decision. New data on earnings associated with university courses, apprenticeships and further education is a crucial part of this.
"Finally, we must equip and enable schools and colleges to help young people make the strongest possible transitions from education into the world of work.
"These steps are important for the futures both of our young people and our economy."
Peter Finegold, Head of Education Policy at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said about Theresa May’s proposal to cut charges for humanities degree courses as part of the Government’s view of the cost of tuition fees:
“Charging higher fees for STEM subjects will have a detrimental impact on the skills shortage in engineering industries and will further undermine social mobility for young people from poorer backgrounds. At a time when the UK needs to produce more graduates of these subjects, charging more for an engineering degree will act as a disincentive for students.
“Engineering is one of the most expensive degree courses, but also amongst the most valuable for our economy - in 2016 the sector contributed £486 billion (over 25%) of the UK’s GDP.
“Talented young people from disadvantaged backgrounds will feel particularly reluctant to pursue engineering as a career. They will, no doubt, feel that they ought to study a cheaper course, rather than pursuing an engineering degree that will lead to a fulfilling and interesting career.
“It appears that universities don’t behave like a free market, so suggestions around varying fees alone to meet the costs of different degrees will not work. The Government must carefully plan its next move and ensure alignment with its planned Industrial Strategy.”
On PM speech on education to mark launch of post-18 education and funding review Professor Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, said:
‘Our universities are world renowned for quality, transforming students’ lives and developing the skilled graduates our economy needs. Future success depends on universities having stable and sustainable funding – which the current system provides. This review is the opportunity to examine the evidence and to make improvements. Crucially, the current system could be better understood and feel fairer to students. Injecting new investment to help the poorest students with their living costs and tackling the decline in mature and part-time study must be priorities.
“The perception may be of academic versus technical qualifications, but the reality is very different. Universities are key to developing the skills needed by employers and students across a wide range of industries, sectors and professions. Degree apprenticeships are a growing and important area, and a significant proportion of courses at UK universities include a technical element.”
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:
"Our post-18 education system has many strengths. It has a fantastic global reputation, we have record rates of disadvantaged students going to university and we are transforming technical education so employers have access to the skills they need.
"However, with a system where almost all institutions are charging the same price for courses – when some clearly cost more than others and some have higher returns to the student than others – it is right that we ask questions about choice and value for money. We also need to look at the balance between academic study and technical education to ensure there is genuine choice for young people and that we are giving employers access to a highly skilled workforce."
Neil Carberry, Chartered Business Institute said:
"Businesses will be looking to the review to build on the strengths of our world-leading university sector and on the role further education plays in supporting the industrial strategy.
"Maintaining a strong independent funding stream to universities through fees will be key, but there are important issues to address. These include the drop in part-time study, maintenance support for the most disadvantaged students and improving the provision of higher technical education. We look forward to working with the review team."
Chair of the post -18 education review panel Philip Augar said:
"I am delighted to chair this crucial review and to work alongside an excellent panel experienced in many different parts of the tertiary education sector. A world class post-18 education system has never been more important to business, society and the economy. We will be focused on ensuring that the system meets those needs by driving up access, quality, choice and value for money for students of all kinds and taxpayers.
"I look forward to engaging widely with students, business, and providers across the post-18 education landscape. This is a wide open and far reaching review. We begin with no preconceptions and our first priority will be a serious examination of the evidence and hearing from a broad range of stakeholders who like us are committed to ensuring the system works for everyone."
In a speech in Derbyshire to launch a wide-ranging review into post-18 education, the Prime Minister will call for a parity of esteem between academic and technical options so we can “create a system of tertiary education that works for all our young people”.
Theresa May will urge people to “throw away” the “outdated attitude” that university is the only desirable route for young people and that going into vocational training “is something for other people’s children”.
She will say that “means equality of access to an academic university education which is not dependent on your background, and it means a much greater focus on the technical alternatives too.”
The government-led review – supported by an independent, external chair and panel – will identify ways to help people make more effective choices between the different options available after 18.
This could include giving young people better guidance about the earning potential of different jobs and what different qualifications are needed to get them, so they can make more informed decisions about their futures.
For those who retrain during their career, the review will also look at how to support flexible life-long learning, including part-time and distance learning.
The PM will pledge to use the review to look at “the whole post-18 education sector in the round, breaking down false boundaries between further and higher education, so we can create a system which is truly joined up.”
She is expected to warn that while significant progress in education reform over recent years has succeeded in driving up school standards and improving the choice and quality of technical education, the current post-18 system is not working as well as it could be - for young people or for the country.
The Prime Minister will continue: “For those young people who do not go on to academic study, the routes into further technical and vocational training today are hard to navigate, the standards across the sector are too varied and the funding available to support them is patchy.
"So now is the time to take action to create a system that is flexible enough to ensure that everyone gets the education that suits them."
There are now record numbers of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university, and the government is determined to build on this progress.
The Prime Minister will say today: “One of the great social achievements of the last half-century has been the transformation of an academic university education from something enjoyed almost-exclusively by a social elite into something which is open to everyone.”
She will set out her commitment to continuing to ensure “that people from all backgrounds share the benefit of university study.”
On the question of student finance, the Prime Minister will acknowledge that many young people, their parents and grandparents, have serious concerns – which she shares – about aspects of the current system.
She will confirm that the review will examine the whole system of student funding – including how it provides value for money, both for students and taxpayers, and how students and graduates contribute to the cost of their studies.
She will say: “The competitive market between universities which the system of variable tuition fees envisaged has simply not emerged. All but a handful of universities charge the maximum possible fees for undergraduate courses. Three-year courses remain the norm. And the level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the course. We now have one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world.”
She will also note that the goal of making university truly accessible to young people from every background “is not made easier by a funding system which leaves students from the lowest-income households bearing the highest levels of debt, with many graduates left questioning the return they get for their investment.”
And she will say that the review “will examine how we can give people from disadvantaged backgrounds an equal chance to succeed. That includes how disadvantaged students and learners receive maintenance support, both from government and universities and colleges.”
Recalling her maiden speech in Parliament in 1997, in which she set out her belief that the aim of education policy should be to “provide the right education for every child”, the Prime Minister will use today’s speech to restate her long-held view that “education is the key to opening up opportunity for everyone.”
And she will say that, by building an education system which unlocks everyone’s talents, “we can build a country that truly does work for everyone.
She will add: "A country where your background does not define your future, and class distinctions are a thing of the past. Where a boy from a working-class home can become a High Court judge, thanks to a great state education. And where a girl from a private school can start a software business, thanks to a first-class technical education.
"That is my vision for a fairer society and how we will deliver it. A society where good, rewarding work is available for everyone. An economy with the skills it needs to succeed.
"Britain as the Great Meritocracy, a country that respects hard work, rewards effort and industry, where a happy and fulfilled life is within everyone’s grasp."
The panel’s report will be published at an interim stage and the review will conclude in early 2019.
Responding to the Treasury Committee recommendations on the government’s major review of university funding and student financing, Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK said:
“The system needs to be better understood and to feel fairer to students. More should be done to address students’ concerns about living costs so that no one is deterred from benefiting from a university education. New investment to re-introduce maintenance grants for the poorest students would be a positive step. Our universities offer a world renowned quality of education and develop the skilled graduates our economy and society needs. This can only be maintained with stable and sustainable funding, which the current system provides. The government’s review is an opportunity to examine the evidence and to make improvements.”
PM to give speech on education to mark launch of post-18 education and funding review:
- PM to warn against “outdated attitude” that favours academic over technical qualifications
- new education review will break down “false boundaries” to look at whole post-18 system
- review to identify ways to help young people make more effective choices when they leave school
- PM will acknowledge concerns with the current funding system and pledge to make it fairer
- speech will set out PM’s vision for an education system that truly serves the needs of every child