From education to employment

Levelling Up and Widening Participation into Higher Education

Chris Hale, Director of Policy, Universities UK

Universities are uniquely placed to support levelling up. It was good to see this recognised in the White Paper, especially their economic role and contribution to Research and Development.

Even so, it would have been good to see universities have greater prominence. For instance, universities have a broader civic role, making a positive impact on towns and cities and the everyday lives of people that live there. And they contribute in addressing health disparities through local health partnerships.

Universities are all about Skills

Significantly, however, is the importance of universities in driving up skills and widening opportunity. Many universities have partnerships with further education (FE) colleges, work with employers on apprenticeships, and deliver Level 4-5 and higher technical qualifications. Universities also support individuals and communities facing the biggest barriers to accessing education and jobs, working with schools and colleges to raise attainment.

Levelling Up and the Lifelong Loan Entitlement

Alongside the Levelling up White Paper is the idea of a Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE). This has the potential to create more flexible options for people to learn and reskill throughout their lives. The details of the LLE, such as how credit transfer and modular funding will work, are now subject to consultation but there are several wider strategic challenges that will be critical to whether this truly unlocks the potential of universities to enhance provision of education and skills opportunities for all.

Levelling Up and Widening Participation

Universities currently invest nearly £1 billion each year in England to unlock opportunities for some of the most disadvantaged. Although 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have never been more likely to go to university, more can be done.

The Office for Students is currently refreshing its approach to regulating access and participation. This will include a requirement for closer working with schools to drive up attainment. It will be important that these new approaches allow universities the flexibility to respond to the needs of schools and colleges in their regions and target interventions where they will have the most impact.

Importantly, the Levelling Up White Paper announced measures which could increase demand by young people to access full-time Level 6 degrees. Education Investment Areas and the new 16-19 elite college and schools fall into these categories.

Levelling Up and Restricting Entry

On the other hand, Government have been concerned with rebalancing incentives away from studying full time Level 6 courses and encouraging alternatives such as higher technical or Level 4- 5 qualifications. Its recent response to the Augar review should be seen in this context, proposing minimum entry requirements (MER) and possible student number caps. These changes raise concerns over potential impact on access and participation in universities, particularly if there are insufficient alternatives and progression routes in place.

Without sufficient alternatives and access to funding in place the negative impact on social mobility and levelling up could be significant. It will therefore be important for government to see these changes together as part of a systems change with implementation ‘choreographed’ and monitored to avoid closing opportunity and losing learners.

The Demand Challenge

The Government will need to work with universities, colleges, and employers to stimulate demand for alternative routes and flexible provision. Approaches will also need to be embedded at a regional level, informed by the skills needs of employers if these changes are going to truly help with levelling up and improving access to education and skills.

The Office for Students’ short course pilots in England are a great start, but relatively small scale. An adaptive approach based on experimentation, testing, and stimulating demand (at scale), should sit alongside and inform the technical development and implementation of the LLE.

Further Transformation

Although universities are well placed to give people the skills they need to get good jobs, further transformation will be needed. Universities UK has proposed that the most innovative and impactful plans for change by higher education institutions should be supported by the government through a new transformation fund.

This would help catalyse and accelerate changes, such as reshaping teaching portfolios and institutional business models, or supporting local partnerships across the education system to provide greater flexibility in learning opportunities. This would include creating more pathways through the 16-19 education system for learners, allowing people to access and progress to higher qualifications.

Recommendation 1

The Levelling Up White Paper and the post-18 funding reforms, including the introduction of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, need to be seen together as part of a systems change to avoid losing learners and closing opportunity as incentives and options to access learning change.

Recommendation 2

Government should support universities, colleges, and businesses to work together at a regional level to stimulate demand, and support transformation.

Recommendation 3

Access spending by universities should be aligned with levelling up and support universities to address education attainment and skills needs in their localities.

Chris Hale, Director of Policy, Universities UK

Post-16 Education and Skills: Levelling Up Everyone, Everywhere

Campaign for Learning’s paper Post-16 Education and Skills: Levelling Up Everyone, Everywhere, is a collection of 18 articles and recommendations by leading stakeholders and thinkers across the post-16 education and skills sector.  

The paper covers six key considerations for the Levelling Up agenda – national and place based strategies, young people, lifelong training, lifelong learning and post-16 providers. 

As the articles show, from the perspective of post-16 education and skills policy, levelling up is about people as well as places – the policy canvas is vast, the perspectives diverse and the insights important.

Together, our authors demonstrate the need for strong, nationally based as well as place based strategies if everyone, everywhere aged 16 and over are to level up through education and skills’ 

Part 1: Levelling Up and National and Place

  • Andy Westwood, Professor of Government Practice, University of Manchester -  Levelling Up and the Department for Education  
  • Sam Freedman, Research Fellow, Institute for Government  – Levelling Up and Post-16 Education and Skills  
  • Fiona Aldridge, Head of Skills Insight, West Midlands Combined Authority  – Levelling Up the West Midlands by 2030  
  • Mark Hilton, Policy Director, London First  – Levelling Up London by 2030  

Part 2: Levelling Up and Young People

  • Geoff Barton, General Secretary, ASCL - Levelling Up and Education: Lots of Stuff but Little Substance  
  • Sam Tuckett, Senior Researcher, Education Policy Institute  – Levelling Up 16-19 Education   
  • Becci Newton, Director of Public Policy and Research, IES  – Levelling Up Participation by 16-18 Year Olds  
  • Kathleen Henehan, Senior Policy and Research Analyst, Resolution Foundation  – Levelling Up 18-24 Year Olds in England   

Part 3: Levelling Up and Lifelong Training

  • Olly Newton, Executive Director, The Edge Foundation - Placing Vocational Education at the Heart of Levelling Up   
  • Mandy Crawford-Lee, Chief Executive, UVAC  – Higher Technical Education, Higher & Degree Apprenticeships and Levelling Up  
  • Ewart Keep, Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford  – The Role of Employer Training in Levelling Up  

Part 4: Levelling Up and Lifelong Learning

  • Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, L&W  – Levelling Up in England through Lifelong Learning   
  • Susan Pember, Policy Director, HOLEX  – Levelling Up as a Nation of Lifelong Learning  
  • Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive, WEA  – The Future of Adult Learning is in the Hands of Local Leaders  

Part 5: Levelling Up and Post-16 Providers

  • David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges  – Well-Funded Colleges to Serve Every Community   
  • Nick Hillman, Director, HEPI   – A ‘Higher Education Institute’ in Every Community   
  • Chris Hale, Director of Policy, Universities UK  – Levelling Up and Widening Participation into Higher Education   
  • Jane Hickie, Chief Executive, AELP  – Levelling Up is as much about People as Places   

Related Articles