Universities might want to get involved with LSIPs

There's a new skills planning landscape and a whole bunch of new exciting acronyms. David Kernohan plots them

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) came in off the back of the Skills and Post-16 Education Act in 2022.

The idea was fairly straightforward – employer representative bodies (ERBs – sorry, there are loads of abbreviations here) come together in a local area to summarise the skills, capability, or expertise that are currently needed or may be needed in the future. The ERB then identifies actions that local post-16 technical education providers should take to meet these needs.

Here “post-16 technical education” can be anything from level 2 (GCSEs) up to level 6 (undergraduate degree) that “draws its purpose from the workplace rather than an academic discipline” – which could include qualifications (T levels, the remaining BTECs, higher technical qualifications), apprenticeships (at any relevant level), and non-accredited provision funded by any means. The LSIP duty – to address the needs identified in an LSIP – only applies to English publicly funded post-16 technical education and training. Likewise where budgets are devolved to combined mayoral authorities, these are FE focused.

So LSIPs are a big deal for FE colleges and independent training providers, a medium-sized deal for sixth forms and schools, but sit very much at the fringes of mainstream higher education activity. Universities, as things stand, are more likely to be involved in ERBs than delivering the requests of LSIPs. And only FE colleges get access to the Local Skills Improvement Fund (LSIF) that supports the investment that new skills delivery will need.

Last week ONS published a map of LSIP areas – a valuable intervention as the idea has always been that LSIPs define their own layer of administrative geography (of any size) rather than conforming to existing maps. Here’s where the LSIPs are in relation to your provider:

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There’s not really a list of the LSIPs themselves – this is the closest we have, a list of links to the work of ERBs (usually linked to a local chamber of commerce) that mostly include actual LSIP plans at least in draft.

The Skills and Post-16 Education Act is the first of two rather skeletal acts that sketch the parameters of the post-compulsory education system after the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (formerly the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, still the LLE) comes into being. As far as the combined effect can be said to have a character, it is to move decisions about what to teach and how away from providers and government and towards employers (via LSIPs, T levels, apprenticeship standards) and learners (via the wider choice offered via the LLE).

The absence of universities as providers when it comes to LSIPs was something that came up repeatedly in debates during the Act’s passage – nearly as often as the strange decision not to define “local” in LSIPs (meaning that some places may be in many LSIPs and others in none). It was argued that the national recruitment of many universities meant that it would be more useful for them to address national skills needs, and (even for more locally-focused providers) that local recruitment just wasn’t, well, local enough. Universities were encouraged to join ERPs as local employers, mind you.

However, many universities are very keen to point out their credentials as local recruiting and locally acting anchor institutions. Though there are few reasonably sized universities that have an effect in just one LSIP area – this plot of recruitment by local authority areas under the LSIPs shows us that universities may be important providers in what we might call a “sub regional area”.

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This may all seem familiar to anyone who remembers the Lifelong Learning Networks (LLNs) – a 2004 attempt to drive responsiveness to local skills needs. Rather than focusing directly on the curriculum, the emphasis here was on progression between providers in a local area – promoting the kind of articulation between HE and FE that is common in Scotland but rare elsewhere in the UK.

In provision terms LLNs answered to Sector Skills Councils (SSCs, sorry) – who were employer led based on sectors or industries but did have regional offshoots. There was a link to regional development agencies (RDAs) – these had a wider remit around regional economic growth, and here a “region” meant one of the seven NUTS level 1 regions (so quite large areas). The 2010 coalition government abolished RDAs – with some work transferring to initially unfunded local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), that are themselves due to be abolished in 2024.

Local provision meeting local employer needs is a tale as old as time, and a long-standing feature of the majority of post-compulsory education. Bringing universities into the new world of LSIPs would close an odd gap in government thinking, and has the potential to rocket-boost the impact of university civic and local work – though we should be clear that there is nothing stopping universities from reading a (public, open) LSIP and responding to it as things stand.

One response to “Universities might want to get involved with LSIPs

  1. If Universities were recruiting local students, not those from the other end of the country, and beyond, perhaps the potentially positive effects would be more apparent? But then students would be having the ‘university experience’, nor providing more money in rents etc to the University…

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