Government unveils range of measures to boost higher technical education

Reforming technical education qualifications will increase demand and help plug skills gaps, said education secretary, Gavin Williamson

The government today (July 14) announced a range of measures intended to improve the quality and appeal of higher technical education.

“Employers are struggling to find the computer programmers, engineers, electricians and technicians they need, and students of all ages are missing out on the high skill, high wage jobs that higher technical education can lead to,” said education secretary, Gavin Williamson.

“The measures I have announced today will boost the quality and take-up of these qualifications to help plug skill gaps, level up opportunities and support our economic recovery.”

Steps include:

  • Establishing a government-backed quality mark for newly approved qualifications from September 2022
  • Collaborating with Ofsted and the Office for Students to ensure uniform high quality of courses across HE and FE institutions
  • Launching a new public awareness campaign, in tandem with employers and careers advisers, to highlight the benefits of studying a higher technical qualification

The move follows a 2019 government review which found that, while taking technical qualifications such as HNCs and HNDs could lead to highly skilled and well-paid employment, take-up for such courses was poor. That, in turn, exacerbated skills shortages in the manufacturing, digital and construction sectors.

There is a serious mismatch between the skills and knowledge delivered by our education system – Lord Sainsbury, chair of the Independent Panel on Technical Education

The announcement was met with qualified support by Dr Greg Walker, chief executive of MillionPlus, the association for modern universities.

While broadly welcoming a “sensible step forward”, he warned that a change in student support was required if the measures were to be truly effective.

“The government should not miss the opportunity to boost the take-up of these important technical qualifications by restoring maintenance grants for those studying them,” he said.

“This is a critical step in supporting people to upskill and reskill in the decade ahead.”

Gordon McKenzie, CEO of GuildHE, the representative body for higher education in the UK, said he “[welcomed] the government’s focus on getting more people qualified at level 4 and above.

“For the reforms to succeed, it is essential that the institute for apprenticeships and technical education puts in place a clear and flexible approvals process that engages employers and awarding bodies and ensures the new HTQs don’t just fit learners for jobs now but provide the broad-based skills, knowledge and behaviours to support their future careers.”

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Today’s announcement follows last week’s pledge by Williamson to lay out plans for a FE system awarding qualifications based on employer-led standards.

It also foreshadows the September launch of T-levels, the vocational two-year courses offering a blend of classroom learning and a minimum of 45 days spent on industrial placement.

Today’s proposals “should be strongly supported by all political parties and industry” according to Lord Sainsbury, the Labour peer and chair of the Independent Panel on Technical Education.

“At the present time there is a serious mismatch between the skills and knowledge delivered by our education system and the needs of our economy and society.

“This announcement of a major reform of higher technical education, together with the introduction of T-levels, should go a long way to ending this mismatch.”

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