Lack of technical and professional qualifications has ‘detrimental impact’ on British economy

A report released today by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) explores the ‘land between’ Level 3 and Level 6 qualifications and sets out proposals to that should improve vocational sector by “embedding employers within it, raising the quality of qualifications and strengthening FE colleges.”

According to the report, proportionally less people in England and Wales have technical and professional qualifications than in other advanced economies and that this has a ‘detrimental impact’ on the British economy. “The shortage of people with appropriate qualifications has resulted in the inappropriate deployment of graduates in the workplace” says the report, going on to blame, at least in part, the shortage of suitably qualified technicians for Britain’s poor productivity.

In the report’s foreword HEPI Director Nick Hillman mentions the confusion and complexity of Level 4 and Level 5 qualifications we have in the UK and notes that public spending on further education, skills and vocational training is under threat. Hillman quotes Vince Cable who, in 2014, recalled his civil servants asking him, “why don’t you just effectively kill off FE? Nobody will really notice.”

The report mentions a commitment to increase sub-degree provision in the 2015 election manifestos; “But the details were vague and did not address the underlying reasons for the current lack of provision.”

There are three clear principals outlined in the report for solving the Level 4 and Level 5 conundrum;

  • a well-defined set of institutions with a core mission based around technical and professional qualifications;
  • work-oriented qualifications at higher levels should all be validated and funded by the same processes’ and
  • reduced barriers to employer engagement.

“In practice, this means comprehensive reform of the way technical and professional qualifications are accredited and funded” says the report.

According to the report, further education colleges are ideally placed to play a “larger role in the provision of technical and professional qualifications but expansion must be dependent on links to local employers and on teaching that combines pedagogical expertise with knowledge of current practice in the workplace.” The report goes on to say that policy should enable further education to play a greater role in the provision of higher-level training and notes that;

  • Some qualification barriers should be removed to encourage people with recent industry experience into teaching.
  • The Institute for Further Education has been granted a Royal Charter, the Government should support the new quality assurance scheme for FE.

The report recommends that a new system for accrediting qualifications should embrace existing well-established brands such as Higher Nationals as well as give scope to “accredited higher education institutions, FE colleges and private training providers to design and deliver their own qualifications if they can demonstrate sufficient rigour and industry engagement.”

Finally the report notes that employers are often “alienated by overlapping, ad hoc and piecemeal initiatives to fund and accredit work-related education.” According to the report surveys show that employers value both a formal role in determining the content of qualifications and a stable policy framework. “Formal industry representation should be intrinsic to a new system for accreditation and funding, leading to the creation of strong and stable institutional anchors for business engagement.”

The report titled, Raising productivity by improving higher technical education: Tackling the Level 4 and Level 5 conundrum, is authored by Dr Scott Kelly, who was adviser to Rt Hon John Hayes MP when he was the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute said; “Scott Kelly’s practical proposals improve the vocational sector by embedding employers within it, raising the quality of qualifications and strengthening FE colleges. Such reforms would, in time, make killing off the sector unthinkable. We urge Ministers to consider them in detail in the interests of the whole country.”

Find the full report here.

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