My FE Funding predictions for 2021
We just hit the halfway point of the year, lockdown is relaxing, and life is starting to look a little more normal. It feels like we’re in a time of transition again, and it got me to thinking about what the next year holds for the FE funding world.
Of course, any predictions at this stage about what 2021 might hold are conditional on two things the government can influence but doesn’t hold ultimate control over, namely Brexit and COVID-19.
As we know, the pandemic’s effects on the jobs market has been mostly keenly felt among young people. The Association of Colleges has warned of increased demand for college places resulting from high unemployment, increased numbers of young people in need of support as a result of lost learning, and large numbers of adults who will need retraining to support their move from struggling sectors.
Given that we don’t yet know what the shape of the final deal with the EU will be, it’s challenging to predict precisely which sectors will suffer most following the end of the transition period However, regardless of the final deal’s details, the Brexit endgame is sure to have major effects on the UK’s economic makeup. This will necessarily entail a drastic change in the country’s skills market.
While the combined effects of Brexit and the pandemic will entail challenges for the country as a whole, they represent an opportunity for shrewd providers. Further support for the economy and skills will be essential and further announcements from the government in the coming months are almost guaranteed, and providers should be ready to respond accordingly.
Devolution will continue to be the keyword going forward with AEB. Several of the large competitions are still in the pipeline, most notably including West Yorkshire Combined Authority.
Several of the existing devolved AEB areas have awarded longer contracts running until 2022 and 2023, including Liverpool, Greater London, and North of Tyne. However, opportunities are likely to become available again in several of the remaining regions.
Providers need to stay on top of the opportunities here! If you didn’t already, you should be regularly checking local skills plans and advance notices to stay on top of the kind of delivery that will be required and be prepared well in advance for any upcoming tenders.
There’s been a flurry of research activity around apprenticeships in the past few weeks, including a Social Mobility Commission report into Apprenticeships and social mobility and a House of Commons briefing paper (Number CBP 03052) on Apprenticeships and skills policy in England. The latest research more-or-less confirms what we already knew about the state of apprenticeships.
Specifically, the levy has suppressed starts to a remarkable degree, that there is a big gap between the most advantaged and most disadvantaged apprentices, and an ongoing issue regarding which learners benefit from apprenticeship funding and the quality of apprenticeship training at different levels.
In short, younger apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds are losing out, big time. The COVID-19 and associated economic downturn is only likely to magnify this effect. Job losses have been most keenly felt in young people working in lower-skilled jobs like hospitality and retail, and the downstream effects have been seen in apprenticeship starts.
There are some positive moves towards fixing the imbalance, including a promise of additional payments to providers - of up to £600 - for learners on apprenticeship frameworks who live in deprived areas as well as additional payments for apprentices who require training in English and maths.
Given the increased focus we’re seeing on apprenticeships, it’s likely that 16-19 apprenticeships will form a large part of the government’s solution to the effects of the pandemic on young people. The Conservatives will certainly be looking ahead to the 2024 election and will not want to be subject to accusations of a “lost generation”. Providers should focus on building apprenticeship delivery capacity and connections with local businesses in preparation for increased investment.