Emerging economies making more use of Independent Training Providers to improve skills, joint British Council / AELP research finds

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are increasingly recognising the importance of vocational skills education as a driver of socio-economic development and the role that independent training providers (ITPs) can play in helping business growth, national productivity and in eliminating poverty.

According to new research published by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), sponsored by the British Council, national governments of these emerging economies are often looking to back higher level technical and professional skills, but the bulk of employer and learner need remains at lower levels.

Nevertheless, the research report finds examples of ITPs that contribute to national policy priorities by widening participation in work related learning by driving employer-centred provision which leads to improvements in productivity.

Six countries – South Africa, India, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Botswana and Nepal – were selected for research into the contribution that ITPs played, or could play, within their technical and vocational education and training (TVET) systems and the research concluded that in many cases ITPs were supporting a changing focus on skills required for ‘international standard’ industries rather than those needed for an agrarian economy.

The report explains why ITPs are so well-placed to make a distinctive contribution to a mixed economy of skills provision. Using the UK’s relatively extensive ITP sector as a starting point for wider international analysis, it finds that ITPs’ innate flexibility often puts them in a position to fill niches in public policy that both the state and an unregulated market economy can have difficulty in responding to – for example, in attracting and re-engaging disadvantaged youth into learning and employment.

Outside of the UK, the relatively low level status of TVET generally means that there is still much more that can be done to harness the potential contribution of ITPs.

More TVET delivery needed in workplaces

The report ‘Unrealised Potential: The role of independent training providers in meeting skills needs’ makes 11 recommendations on the back of the research findings, including:

  • Governments should facilitate training taking place more in the workplace rather than in institutions
  • Outputs from technical education and training should align more with economic priorities
  • Focus should be on the quality of TVET delivery rather than the process of delivery
  • Emerging economies should encourage more partnership working between ITPs and public TVET providers
  • ITPs should use their strong employer links to recruit from industry and strengthen their expertise
  • Best practice among ITPs should be shared internationally to improve TVET systems.

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe said:

“Independent training providers are known for their nimble and flexible responses to different national priorities and therefore they have a key role to play in improving skills levels in emerging economies. This research shows that ITPs in other countries are no different from their UK counterparts in this respect but AELP is working with the British Council and other important stakeholders to ensure that UK expertise and experience is available overseas to bring about faster progress as one means of eradicating poverty and improving productivity.”


Key findings from six country profiles

The research found:

  • In Botswana: a clear TVET strategy alongside an emerging ITP presence is contributing to improved skills.
  • In South Africa: there is a clear recognition for the need to encourage more employer demand for skills training with potential for the well-established ITP sector to still contribute more.
  • In Uganda: a lack of public funding has been a major obstacle to progress, but ITPs are playing a very large role in realigning the TVET strategy with the needs of the ‘real’ economy.
  • In India: potential growth for ITPs can be realised in development areas such as m-learning, i.e. using mobile phone connectivity.
  • In Nepal: 300 ITPs are playing a significant part in employer-centred skills development including delivering donor-funded provision for social purposes.
  • In Sri Lanka: most TVET provision is undertaken on a purely commercial basis but there is openness to a diversified skills system.


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