The excellence of UK universities
was recognised by the Chancellor today, with the academic route being described
as “undeniably the best in the world”. The announcements on maintenance loans
for part-time undergraduates and doctoral loans in all subjects recognise the
value and range what higher education can offer.
At the heart of the
announcements today is a focus on technical skills and support for the further
education sector. As a key part of the education sector – and a valued partner
to many universities – we support this. We also support the increased focus on
technical skills and “T-levels”. The Sainsbury
Review has made great strides in simplifying the technical skills
landscape. Universities stand ready to work with their further education
partners on the development of technical skills.
The Chancellor identifies
choice as the “key to excellence”. The education sector needs to work
collectively with government to ensure that adequate information and advice on
all choices and options is given to young people, about higher education,
further education, technical education and the new higher and degree
apprenticeships. Provision of information is one of the key drivers of ‘parity
Yet we will miss an
opportunity to enhance the education offer to students and employers if a boost
to technical education results in unnecessary barriers to increased choices and
lifelong learning. There is already extensive vocational and professional
education in our universities. Universities educate engineers, scientists, doctors,
nurses, lawyers and a whole range of creative professional. One university
counted a total of over 200 professional bodies that it worked with.
Universities UK’s current review
of skills is showing that universities also have extensive employer
links, designing programmes in partnership with them, collaborating on
placements, working on joint projects and encouraging employers to mentor their
students. The assumed divide between academic and technical education is, in
reality, a spectrum of provision.
The Sainsbury Review
identifies two “routes”, the academic and the technical, but it also calls for
“bridging provision” to enable movement between the two routes. Identifying
this bridging provision to ensure that young people not only have a choice between
two routes of equal esteem at the start, but that they also have the real
opportunity to exercise this choice throughout their education will be an
essential part of an effective system.
While is it is clear we need
to boost technical skills to enhance productivity, it is also clear that we
need more graduates to drive the higher level skills that will
also promote productivity growth.
The increased support in the
Budget for PhD places, the majority of them in STEM disciplines, recognises the
key importance of universities in subjects that clearly span the
academic/technical “divide”. Engineering
has also recently highlighted the need for an additional 20,000 engineering
graduates every year. We need all parts of the education sector, at all levels
helping to drive future growth.
While we clearly need a boost
to technical education, we also need the whole of the education sector growing
to meet the needs of the economy. We must ensure we have a joined-up approach
to meeting employer needs. Employers have little interest in the minutiae of
education policy-making. This sort of joining up is already happening at the
local level, the recent Science
and Innovation Audit for Greater Manchester and Cheshire East
called for a new Institute of Technology but one that works closely with the
universities and ensure progression from further education.
The Budget has announced
Lifelong Learning pilots to test different approaches to help people retrain
and upskill throughout their working lives. How the education sector as a whole
can support this and how information and choice can be enhanced should be a
priority for these pilots. Universities provide substantial part-time,
postgraduate, work-based learning and professional development, so will have a
lot to contribute.