Independent Commission on the College of the Future  - Progress Report November 2019 

At the Independent Commission on the College of the Future, we are asking the central question of what we want and need from our colleges across the four nations of the UK from 2030 onwards.

There are seismic shifts happening across the UK - from demographic changes, to technological revolution, from the changing demands of the labour market, to climate change and all of the wide-ranging changes that this will in turn entail. This will mean significant change for the college sector – but these are also challenges that colleges can help us to meet and manage.

Launched in spring 2019, the Commission is committed to an approach which is open and reflective, and which seeks to build a broad consensus as to the key role our colleges have to play for people, communities and employers across the four nations of the UK.

So far, we have held over 25 engagement events and spoken with a wide range of experts, college and business leaders, staff, learners, employers, policy-makers and many others from across the UK, and internationally. We have many more sessions planned and are now seeking written feedback.

This progress report marks the half-way point through the Commission process and reflects the thinking and ideas from across those many conversations.

Here, we set out a short summary of the key themes we have been exploring, with a set of questions that we are keen to look at it in greater detail.

We recognise that any vision of the college of the future must reflect national, regional and local contexts. While there are common challenges and opportunities for colleges across the four nations, the recommendations that we will make in our final report next spring will be distinct and particular across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

We look forward to feedback and welcome your views on the questions that we have set out, including:

  • What do you agree and disagree with?
  • What issues have we not yet looked at and should be?
  • And how do we best ensure, together, that our colleges across the four nations of the UK are able to play the central role that they can and must – for people, communities and governments? 

Our aim with this report is to facilitate and provoke more ideas and thoughts, as we work towards a report for publication in Spring 2020.

We will be using this report and the feedback to it as we move to our next stage - working as a Commission and with a broad range of partners to develop specific recommendations for each of the four nations. We look forward to meeting with and working with as many of you as possible as we take that forward.

At the Independent Commission on the College of the Future, we are asking the central question of what we want and need from our colleges across the four nations of the UK from 2030 onwards.

Since our launch in spring 2019, we have been speaking with a wide range of people who have a stake in the future of colleges. Contexts and challenges differ notably across the four nations, but the principles we see for the college of the future remain common.

Five key themes have emerged, as have a number of key questions for further inquiry:

  1. Role, scope and focus of colleges: an essential service to people and employers in every community Colleges will increasingly need to act as an essential service to people and employers in every community, combining high-quality education and skills with access to facilities and resources for lifelong learning.
  2. Teaching, training, learning and assessment: lifelong, flexible learning for the future world of work Changes in the world of work will see an increased need for people to study and train throughout their lives. This will come alongside increased demand for flexible provision, systems which facilitate credit transfer and effective use of new technologies to drive greater access and inclusivity.
  3. Workforce and leadership: investing in innovative and collaborative people Recruiting and developing the workforce of the college of the future requires investment, a rigorous system of continuous professional development (CPD), facilitating greater movement between education and industry and new regional and UK-wide networks to facilitate collaboration.
  4. Funding, governance and accountability: a sustainable system which engenders trust Colleges need sustainable funding and a regulatory framework which reflects and reinforces strong levels of trust between colleges, regulators and governments.
  5. Relationships: colleges at the centre of coherent skills ecosystems Colleges are a key part of the national infrastructure and must be properly networked, sitting within coherent systems. This means colleges being at the heart of an education ecosystem, with strategic employer partnerships at a regional level. 

Sector Response

david hughes 100 x100

Chief Executive David Hughes said: 

“This report comes at a crucial time for colleges. With big changes to work, technology and attitudes to lifelong learning, the Commission is well placed to answer some of the biggest questions of the day. The report covers the breadth and depth of the challenges but reassuringly shows us that there is a strong and growing consensus about the vital role colleges play from a wide range of people, communities, employers and governments.  

"That makes me optimistic that the 2020s will see a renaissance in colleges to make them fit for the future. I’d like to applaud the Commission’s work in helping to build that consensus and I look forward to seeing the next steps and the vision for colleges the Commission sets out in spring 2020."

Paul Feldman100x100Jisc CEO, Paul Feldman, who’s a member of the commission’s expert panel, said:

“Colleges are at the forefront of government policy to upskill the UK workforce, close the technical skills gap, level the playing field for all learners and provide lifelong learning opportunities for all. Collectively, that’s quite a challenge.  

“And while our colleges are used to dealing with a shifting policy landscape – and doing it on a budget - the commission is already highlighting what the sector needs now and in decades to come to deliver what learners, and the UK, need to thrive as we navigate Education 4.0.”  

jamie smith100x100Jamie Smith, Executive Chairman of C-Learning, said:

"Colleges have an opportunity, as they always had, to reshape, reform and rebuild to be fit for purpose in the digital age. When it comes to estates and infrastructure strategies colleges can lead the way in transitioning from the campus to the cloud with all of the benefits it offers, and some are, but not enough. Money is a challenge, but it can also be an excuse. If you're running on site servers and using traditional desktops and using hundreds of printers and making people travel to do things they could do better online, there are much smarter ways of working. High growth industry expects people to have the skills to work in progressive ways that adds value and these themes could be strengthened in the Progress Report.

"In placing digital at the core of reimagining Colleges for the future the sector could show the way in tackling climate change, challenges around equity and inclusion, access to opportunity and more. This will require bold thinking, 10x thinking if you like (take what you're considering and blow it out of the park then ask what's stopping you?) and a step change in evolving practice to be agile enough to meet new types of business models, such as cloud workers. 

"Untethered, empowered & digital. The college of the future must enable learning that is highly personalised, evolves and is accessible on any device from any location at any time. My hope is that the sector gets the support and resources it needs to fully realise these kind of possibilities."

Julie Hyde, Director at NCFE, commented:

“As part of our core mission to promote and advance learning, NCFE is proud to support the Independent Commission on the College of the Future.

“This half way report has come at a crucial time for colleges and does well to highlight some of the sector’s key challenges, some of which are being felt already, such as a lack of sustainable funding streams and movement in how and when people access learning throughout their lives.

“It is encouraging to see that, according to the Commission’s research, colleges and the role that they play in communities and ecosystems will be pivotal to addressing these challenges and driving change to support the workforce of the future. We look forward to further supporting this important piece of work as it evolves and progresses.”

Shona Struthers, Chief Executive of Colleges Scotland, said:

"Since its launch earlier this year, we have been actively engaging with the independent Commission on the College of the Future and feeding in views from across Scotland on a vision for how we think colleges should evolve to meet the needs of learners, society and the economy.

“Although there are separate education systems across the four nations, there are many similarities in the challenges we all face and instrumental to the future success of the college sector will be our ability to develop innovative solutions.

“Colleges are at the heart of inclusive, sustainable economic growth and, by working collaboratively across the four nations of the UK, we can collectively build on our strengths, and effect positive change for the benefit of learners, employers and the communities we serve.

“I am pleased that the progress report has been published and look forward to continuing this work and seeing the commission’s final recommendations in due course.”

The Commission is kindly supported by nine organisations, without whom this work would not be possible. Thank you to AoC, City & Guilds, ColegauCymru, Colleges Scotland, FETL, Jisc, NCFE, NOCN and Pearson.

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