From education to employment

How collaboration between colleges and universities can transform lives and places #GoingFurtherHigher

Lewis Cooper, Director, Commission on the College of the Future

Throughout the work of the Commission, we’ve been clear that the college of the future cannot deliver for people, productivity and place in isolation, but needs to sit within a coherent, joined-up wider education and skills ecosystem.

One important element of this has to reflect on how colleges and universities work together.

That’s why we’ve been so pleased to work with the Civic University Network and Sheffield Hallam University over the past nine months to explore the challenges and opportunities that exist for university-college relationships across the four nations of the UK.

Today (7 Feb), we launch our report, Going Further and Higher: How collaboration between colleges and universities can transform lives and places.

Our starting position is that colleges and universities share common missions – including supporting people to access education and training throughout their lives, driving productivity, and in helping to support healthy, sustainable, connected communities.

This means that developing meaningful, balanced relationships should be at the heart of what sector leaders do. It isn’t an optional extra, or something that can be based purely on personal relationships that can come and go. But all too often, relationships are lacking – lacking ambition or interest, or worse still beset by deep distrust. This clearly needs to change.

There is broad consensus that this requires attention across the four nations. Our report seeks to share learnings from both local partnerships and national reforms, to inspire and inform both policy and practice.

We’re clear that building truly joined-up and collaborative education and skills systems within each of the four nations is a shared responsibility for everyone across the system. 

There is a huge amount that sector leaders can and must do locally. But the report identifies how unequal investment and a lack of clarity on the role that universities and colleges play has led to years of unnecessary tension, in different ways and to different extends across the four nations. 

So, we are calling on policy makers to continue to take this agenda forwards, building on the respective reform agendas already in place.

Following extensive consultation and input from education leaders and policymakers from the four nations, the report provides a blueprint for more collaboration between institutions to support people, employers and communities.

The recommendations (see below for an overview) apply to varying degrees across the four nations, with many of them inspired by existing practice and policy.

Recommendations for sector leaders, which focus on creating strong local networks:

  1. Agree the institutions who are involved in the network and embrace the local geography and specialisms that already exist.
  2. Develop a cohesive education and skills offer for local people, employers and communities built around lifelong learning, ensuring  inefficient duplication and competition is reduced.
  3. Move beyond personal relationships and agree how the whole institution is involved in collaboration, with clear roles and shared responsibility for partnership.

Recommendations to governments across the four nations to build better education and skills systems:

  1. Set an ambitious 10-year strategy to ensure lifelong learning for all and to deliver on national ambitions. 
  2. Balance investment in FE and HE to ensure the whole education and skills system is sustainably funded so that colleges and universities can work in the interests of their local people, employers and communities.
  3. Equal maintenance support across loans and grants for HE and FE students, regardless of age, personal circumstances, or route into education.
  4. Tackle the ‘messy middle’ by defining distinct but complementary roles for colleges and universities to avoid a turf war over who delivers various types of education and training.
  5. Create a single funding and regulatory body for the entire post-16 education and skills system in each nation to deliver more aligned and complementary regulatory approaches that will ensure smoother learner journeys.

We will be building the conversation over the coming weeks and months as we explore together what more we can do to strengthen relationships.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on what more needs to be done, and examples of your work on this. Get involved in the conversation by using the hashtags #GoingFurtherHigher and #CollegeoftheFuture.

Lewis Cooper, Director, Commission on the College of the Future

This afternoon (7 Feb) we are hosting  an online launch event, 1pm – 2.30pm, with a fantastic array of speakers. Do sign up to join us then if you are able to.

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