With October’s comprehensive spending review announcements still ringing in our ears, few would disagree that 2010 has been a time of tumultuous change for all education institutions. Now that the dust from the review has settled, and with the year drawing to a close, it’s a good opportunity to take stock of some of the adjustments to the FE sector and look at how the land lies going forward into 2011.
Train to Gain
The plans to drop the Train to Gain budget will predominantly impact on training for the already employed, particularly those over the age of 25.
At the beginning of the year, a report from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) suggested around half of employers whose employees received training would have arranged similar training without public subsidy. The current move towards the modularization of qualifications will help to ensure that training can be purchased in bite size chunks that are a close fit to the company requirements. Modules that are of no interest can be correspondingly ignored.
While operating in this way will require robust systems to carefully monitor and track students’ progress, ensuring they are properly accredited, it will also build up the relationship between colleges and employers. Potentially this is very good news for colleges. As the relationship grows, the college could be the company’s first port of call to fill job vacancies. In turn, this will attract additional students. Eventually, the knowledge gained could affect the curriculum until, rather than responding, the college becomes the lead. Furthermore, the extra income and specialist knowledge, materials and technology may also have a spin off effect into the general curriculum.
The government announced that it is committed to increasing the number of apprenticeships by 75,000 places by the year 2014-15, with an expansion of both scope and quality expected. The aim is to allow the sector to draw on Ofsted’s recent report on excellence in apprenticeships and help build a workforce with the skills required to lift the country out of recession.
However, the 157 Group, which represents the top FE colleges, has some reservations. They point out in their response to The Wolf Review of 14-19 Vocational Education, that at the current time around a third of 16 year olds are studying vocational programmes in FE as opposed to just 4% on apprenticeships. At age 17, around a quarter are in FE compared with some 7% on apprenticeships. Therefore, there is much ground to be covered before apprenticeships become the prime source of vocational education for 16-18 year olds.
At the moment, no one knows what the new requirements of running apprenticeship schemes will be. However, one option could be that colleges and training providers will be expected to manage the whole process.
By their nature, there will certainly be two main components to the apprenticeships; academic study and training on the job. Successful schemes will need to be properly structured, and clear communication links between employer, student and the college itself will need to be built. If the responsibility to oversee the scheme does lie with FE institutions, one thing for sure is that it will be crucial to have adequate management information systems in place to maintain evidence of practical application and demonstrate a clear path of development for students that reflects the practical and theoretical skills they require.
An overall funding reduction of 25% over the next four years means the FE sector faces a tough challenge to continue to operate without diminishing the range or quality of provision. Collectively, colleges need to look at ways to reduce costs intelligently, recognising the importance of high quality advice to get it right the first time and investing only in areas that offer a tangible return on investment and help them function more efficiently. Individually, each college will need to pull out all the stops to demonstrate their worth to prospective students and showcase the value they could potentially add to that student’s learning journey.
Rob Elliott is products manager at Capita FHE, providers of integrated management information systems to the further and higher education sectors