From education to employment

Emerging Themes and Government Developments in FE Qualifications

Education is playing an increasingly significant role in society today. More people are accessing further education than ever before, and young people are continuing to study for longer periods of time, consequently gaining more qualifications, as the growing trend for further education rises in accordance with the rising standards of employers. But how important are qualifications in the UK today?

Price Waterhouse Coopers have carried out an assessment of the market for further education qualifications in the UK. Their findings have been detailed in a report that analyses the key drivers of the supply and demand of qualifications in order to predict emerging trends, identify key themes and analyse their implications. In part two of this two part investigation, FE News reporter Sara Hashash looks at the future of qualifications in Britain.

Emerging Themes for Qualifications

The report identified key aspects it called “emerging themes” that influence behaviour and drive change within the sector. These were broken down into political, social, economic and technological factors.

Government policy was cited as the “biggest single driver of change” as it not only heavily influences funding and thereby the overall provision of qualifications, but also shapes supply and demand to the benefit of some providers and customers and the detriment of others. Its two aims of widening participation, to enhance participation levels amongst those from low skill backgrounds, as well as striving to create a more demand-led market, set the priorities for most qualification providers.

The government effort to widen participation has indeed led to greater funding and support services such as information advice and guidance and could even result in an increased demand for higher level courses. However the focus of funding on this initiative has created a counterbalance by decreasing funding for other courses. In this situation the reluctance of people to pay for courses themselves would therefore result in a lower demand for courses that are not funded.

Demand Led Qualifications

In order to achieve the aim of making the market for qualification more “demand-led”, Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) have been established to set national standards and identify areas where qualifications will be needed in the future. They will also contribute to the plans in place to meet regional skills targets. However, concerns have been raised over the issue of inconsistent quality and effectiveness of councils in different regions. Also, in spite of the fact that governmental policy dominates the qualifications market, the delivery of qualifications in most cases is achieved through unrecognised awarding bodies. There is therefore a need to regulate awarding bodies without diminishing from their provision in specific areas.

Government policies, however, ultimately have economic goals and indeed investment in qualifications it is hoped will increase productivity and stimulate innovation and creativity in the workplace, as well as working to close the skills gap that exists between the UK and competing nations. Over the next few years, UK total employment is expected to grow at a moderate and steady rate. A long term shift towards higher skilled jobs is also expected to occur.

This could result in a greater need for more work based learning and an increased demand for training at higher levels. Yet much still needs to be done to clarify the system, as an excess of qualifications is currently hindering people from making correct and informed choices about the qualification that is best suited to their own needs. Some regulation of the market must occur whilst maintaining the “specialist niche titles”, to retain a certain level of breadth and depth of provision.

Widening Participation

From a social perspective, the widening participation scheme hopes to “develop an inclusive society that promotes employability” as well as generally enhancing the quality of people’s lives by decreasing chances of unemployment, and allowing them to reach their full potential as well as being able to use their acquired skills to benefit their families and communities.

In this area, the challenge for the regulatory authorities identified in the report is to simplify the marketplace and ensure that all learners receive sufficient support and access to information, particularly about the funding opportunities available to them. Another element involved in widening participation is ensuring accessibility; this is both in terms of physical location and the availability of technology as these factors play a major role in attracting learners who have been out of education for a long period of time.

Investment in technology is another key area as this field is continuously evolving and facilitating the learning process by producing new delivery formats. There has undoubtedly been a shift away from traditional “lecture-based” teaching towards work-based learning, e-learning and telephone or internet support. However, far from replacing traditional learning methods completely, this has been perceived as merely a supplementary method to enhance the learning process and increase engagement between learner and teacher.

Areas identified by the report as requiring further research included, the extent to which regulatory authorities must regulate awarding bodies, as well as further research into how the complex UK system of unrecognised and recognised bodies functions, examining its effectiveness in comparison with systems in place in a number of other countries.

Sara Hashash

Read part one of Sara Hashash’s report right here at FE News!

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