From education to employment

Unrecognised Qualification Awarding Bodies Outnumber Recognised by Eight to One

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 the first part of this two part investigation, FE News reporter Sara Hashash delves into the world of qualifications.

Unrecognised Awarding Bodies

Beginning with the analysis of the supply of qualifications, the report immediately identifies the overwhelming dominance of awarding bodies that are not recognised by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales (ACCAC), and the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA). The unrecognised awarding bodies, which tend to offer more specialised qualifications and constitute a more diverse market, make up around 900 whereas the officially recognised bodies make up a mere 115.

The issue identified as one of the most influential factors driving change for the recognised awarding bodies was the policy of administration for 14 -19 year olds, followed by the work based learning policy. For the unrecognised awarding bodies, the key drivers were more diverse, incorporating factors such as demand from employers, individuals, governmental policy and the need for quality assurances.

Most Popular Bodies

On the demand side, the choice of awarding body in further education colleges was mostly determined by the extent and appropriateness of its content and range rather than its cost. The majority of qualifications offered by further education colleges were within the National Qualifications Framework ( NQF) and the main factors influencing their decision to choose qualifications within the NQF was the funding or cost, and fitness for purpose of the course, followed by learner, and or employer demand.

Edexcel, OCR, AQA, City and Guilds, and WJEC were highlighted as the awarding bodies most used by further education colleges. For further education colleges, funding was identified as the single greatest factor for curriculum growth and development. Funding is determined by governmental targets for areas identified as needing investment, and any limitation of this has a negative impact on the college’s capacity.

FE colleges report that recent government encouragement of greater personal contributions to training courses has had a negative effect with employers and individuals reluctant to pay towards their learning. This therefore may reduce the demand for qualifications that do not receive funding, resulting in potentially significant losses for the FE colleges.

Plugging a £10 Billion Gap?

From the perspective of employers, investing in educating and raising the skills of staff is of vital importance. It is estimated that industry losses through a lack of basic skills are in the region of £10 billion a year, and it is crucial that this is improved for the UK workforce to compete on an international level. More than half of the employers interviewed were of the view that training should lead to a qualification, a similar number were aware of the NQF. The greatest factors influencing the decisions of employers were the cost, and the legal requirements involved. Often however, investing large sums in training staff will boost productivity and proving a great asset to employers.

An enquiry into the demands of individual learners revealed that the wide variety and choice of qualifications available within one sector leads not only to confusion about the differences in what each qualification offers, but is also reinforced by a general lack of understanding of the differences between qualification levels. Learners were mostly unaware of the existence or exact role of the awarding bodies themselves.

The report not only examined the various sides of the supply and demand chain for qualifications in great detail but also provided an overview assessment of the UK market.The report found that the market for qualifications in the UK is extremely diverse in terms of who provides the training and what it offers. For example qualifications are awarded by both recognised and unrecognised bodies, and it can be provided by specialist training providers, further education colleges or alternatively by employers seeking to increase the skills of their staff within a specific industry.

Sara Hashash

Read the second instalment of this review right here on FE news!

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