Live: Policy Exchange – What does the new government mean for HE & FE?



  • Panel: Education and training – a framework that lasts for life

    Our next panel will discuss lifelong learning. We open with Peter Horrocks of the Open University, who reflects on the political imperatives that have influenced last week’s announcement by the Prime Minister. The domestic agenda of the new administration is focusing on both social mobility and industrial strategy, and lifelong learning will be vital to both of these agendas.

    Horrocks calls the OU “the great corrector” to the inequalities of our compulsory education system. Not only that, it is vital for workforce productivity and capacity. Yet sadly, part-time entry to higher education is down 58% over the past five years. Horrocks believes that demand-side correctives are required to make part-time learning more accessible and appealing, including the introduction of credit-transfer arrangements.

    Next up is Martin Anderson of KPMG Learning. He states that the critical factor in improving take-up to KPMG apprenticeship schemes has been through enabling digital access. Lifelong learning will soon be dependent and linked to ‘the internet of things’ – this is a massive opportunity. Learning can be ‘linked in’ to everyday digital life, rather than being remote and difficult to access.


    2 years ago
  • The future of apprenticeships

    We’re witnessing a very interesting discussion about the real levers and incentives that can transform our skills sector. Maddalaine reflects on her experience in skills policy in government, arguing that the key lever is finding ways to encourage employers to invest in training and to recognise their role in this. Education cannot provide the ‘off-the-shelf work ready’ employees that employers want. The apprenticeship levy could address this – it is a form of compulsory investment in training and skills from employers.

    Moving onto the levy, there are mixed views on whether the levy will work. David Hughes argues that levies in other countries are not magic bullets, and most employers view it as an annoyance and a tax. Nonetheless, he is still optimistic it can come together, but time is tight.

    The panel agree that there is a profound problem in apprenticeship policy with a lack of progression post-apprenticeship. Not enough apprentices can progress onto degrees or new sectors and jobs. If one has trained in too specialised an area, this can leave you with real problems if for some reason you have to leave your job. In the ever more insecure and flexible economy, this is increasingly risky. Apprenticeship trailblazer standards are currently far too specialised and are exacerbating the problem, particularly because they primarily serve large companies who want specialist staff rather than small companies who want more generalists.

    Our panel concludes and we will now break for lunch.

    2 years ago
  • Panel discussion: the future for post-16 skills after the Sainsbury Review

    We now move onto Lowell Williams of Dudley College. Lowell is more cynical about how revolutionary the Sainsbury proposals will be. We’ve been here before, why should this time be different? Top-down structural reforms have come and gone and we’ve made very little progress in skills policy over the years. So the overall assessment is: “mostly harmless”. There is too little work being done to create a culture and environment around colleges that will enable them to deliver. This is related to funding, but not just funding.

    Finally, Jane Baker of Pearson and a veteran of the FE sector. She, like Lowell before her, emphasises how employers already know what they want – they just want the system to deliver it. The Sainsbury proposals must not close down pathways and options, which it risks doing whilst attempting to make the system simpler and easier to navigate. There must be smooth transition options between technical and academic pathways all the way through the system, and could perhaps learn from Singapore, where this is done very well. Flexibility is vital, and attainable.


    2 years ago
  • Panel discussion: the future for post-16 skills after the Sainsbury Review

    It’s panel time now, featuring David Hughes of the Association of Colleges; Maddalaine Ansell of University Alliance; Lowell Williams of Dudley College; and Jane Baker of Pearson.

    We begin with David Hughes of the AoC. Remarks that it is too rare for HE and FE to be in the same room together, and it’s good that we have that today to discuss the Sainsbury Review. This is a welcome development, though the pre-referendum government’s commitment only went so far as being cost neutral. To do it properly, funds will be needed. David makes the important point that the context for Sainsbury’s parallel post-16 plan has changed now the government is proposing reintroducing selection at an earlier age – real risk of two-tier education from 11 to 18.

    The Sainsbury reforms will take ten years and will need persistent commitment from the current government (and successive governments), and hopefully not end up like the now deceased 14-19 diplomas. It will also take substantial work from an organisation that doesn’t exist yet – the Institute for Apprenticeships.


    We now move to Maddalaine Ansell. Maddalaine explains that too often the ‘social mobility’ and technical education debates are held separately, and that the former focuses too much on ensuring access to ‘elite’ universities, and neglects the rest. The grammar schools issue has doubled down on that problem: politicians play to parents’ belief that their children will go to the ‘best’ universities and that technical education is for ‘other people’s children’. This week’s DfE paper is concerning for saying nothing about technical and professional education and a reaffirmed commitment to the Sainsbury Review proposals would be reassuring.

    2 years ago
  • Crawford: the case for more contextual admissions

    Claire now presents some particularly interesting data: “Pupils from low performing schools with the same attainment as those from high performing schools have, on average, higher ‘potential'”, in terms of attainment and graduate outcomes. Universities should consider the quality of schools when selecting students from disadvantaged backgrounds, as those who have attained the required grades in spite of attending a poor quality school are likely to be good and successful students.

    She also touches on what happens beyond university: the recruitment policies of graduate recruiters are obscure and need to be looked at. A recent report found that the Civil Service Fast Stream programme is more selective than Oxbridge…

    In sum, higher education is simply not ‘levelling the playing field’ for those from the most disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. The sector simply is not ‘an engine of social mobility’. In some ways, it’s not even close.

    2 years ago
  • Claire Crawford: HE outcomes and social disadvantage

    Claire’s research shows that there are substantial gaps between the poorest and wealthiest students once attending university, particularly in terms of retention and degree attainment. Even when controlling for prior-attainment, institution attended, and school backgrounds, the wealthiest 20% are still 5.3 percentage points more likely to complete their degree than the poorest 20%, and 3.7 percentage points more likely to attain a first or 2:1. There is a ‘wealth attainment gap’ in UK higher education, and universities still have work to do supporting students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in university.

    After university, graduates from private schools are more likely to obtain a professional job than those who came from state schools. Social background is also a significant predictor of graduate earnings, across the distribution of salary levels. These differences persist amongst those with similar achievement at degree level. Those from state schools and the lowest socio-economic group do not benefit as much from higher education as the wealthiest and the privately educated.

    2 years ago
  • Keynote 2: Dr Claire Crawford

    We now move onto Claire Crawford, lecturer in economics at Warwick and also of the IFS, who has conducted a great deal of research into education and social mobility.


    Crawford’s research shows that prior attainment explains socio-economic status gaps in HE participation likelihood in early-years and early-secondary education, but not by age 16 and age 18, where people of similar attainment are equally likely to attend higher education. However, there is still a gap for ‘high status institutions’, where students with equal attainment from lower socio-economic backgrounds are still less likely to attend. Therefore, school attainment explains the continued gap in participation across the sector as a whole, but not in the ‘top’ universities, where something else is still going on…


    2 years ago
  • Q&A with Wes Streeting: more VCs should be on Question Time

    Wes has been asked questions about evidence-based skills policy, supporting retention, the HE Bill, and TEF.

    He refers to the Public Bill Committee as a “supreme waste of time” if the government will not accept constructive and sensible opposition amendments, and also makes a joke-reference to the next Labour government “in 2050″ being unable to reverse marketisation and consumerism in higher education.

    Wes praises the role that vice chancellors and universities played during the EU referendum, stating that playing a more active role in public life and articulating a vision for Britain’s place in the world is something that universities and their leaders should do more often.”Universities could show a lot more social leadership, values leadership. I would like to see more VCs on Question Time. In the world of post-truth politics, universities have a more vital role than ever”.

    2 years ago
  • Opening keynote: Wes Streeting MP

    We open today’s conference with a keynote from Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North. Wes begins with some kind words for Wonkhe in the hope he might further ascend up our Power List…


    Onto more serious matters, Wes is reflecting on the challenges for education and social mobility in the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ as technology, robotics and the internet revolutionise the world of work and the social fabric of industrialised countries. Our challenge is to educate people to thrive in this environment, in particular one that accounts for an ageing population and the need to acquire skills in adult life. The UK lags behind in this area, and highly skilled people are still the most likely to receive further training and development opportunities, and not the lowest skilled.

    The EU referendum debate has revealed how opportunities, particularly through education, have become increasingly unequal. This, much more than immigration, is to blame for communities, many in old Labour areas, being left behind. Unfortunately, government policy has exacerbated this problem. Wes highlights cuts to further and adult education, post-16 area reviews, and the focus on quantity over quality of apprenticeships. “Pity the school leaver not attending university trying to understand their options, compared to the wealth of information available to their counterparts who do enter university”. In particular, there needs to be a sustained effort to widen participation in skilled and higher-level apprenticeships to women, disabled people, and BME people.

    Wes now turns to HE. The government is a long way off achieving its stated targets for widening participation, but there are two particular challenges he thinks need to be confronted. Firstly, the lack of widened access to Russell Group and ‘elite’ institutions. Wes, a Sutton Trust summer school alumni, quotes the Trust’s research in this area: “2,800 missing students” from the most disadvantaged backgrounds at these institutions. Secondly, universities that claim to be successful at widening access are often the worst for ensuring equal attainment and retention. It is simply unfair to take in students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and plunge them into debt, only to see them drop out after 18 months.

    Wes has been very active on the Public Bill Committee for the Higher Education and Research Bill, and has suggested many amendments related to students’ rights and widening access.

    Wes states that, if Labour were to “tax the rich into poverty”, he wouldn’t spend it on free tuition fees, but on schools instead, quoting the West Wing: “to make schools like palaces, and pay teachers as well as bankers”. He puts Labour’s current predicament on education policy has been long in the making, since 2010, when it was on the “second tier” of Labour priorities. Labour needs a new debate on its hopes for education, and Policy Exchange is a great place to have that debate.

    2 years ago