‘Turbocharge’ technical education, demands MillionPlus

Latest report makes recommendations for the future of level 4 and 5 higher technical education under the new government

Full maintenance grant support should be available for all students undertaking level 4 and 5 technical education qualifications, argues the latest research report from MillionPlus.

The association of 22 modern, mostly post-1992, universities is calling on the government today to ‘turbocharge’ technical education.

Its new paper, ‘Levelling up: investing in higher technical education at universities in England’, analyses the provision of level 4 and 5 higher technical education and makes six recommendations.

Vocational and academic

“As the effects on the labour market of AI, automation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution continue to grow, there are rightly calls for increased work-focused and employer-led education,” said Professor Rama Thirunamachandran, chair of MillionPlus and vice-chancellor of Canterbury Christ Church University. “A great breadth of such provision does exist already in modern universities, but this delivery in every corner of England is too often unheralded.

“Working with employers on curriculum design, placements, apprenticeships and course delivery, modern universities deliver higher education that is both vocational and academic. They equip students with not just hands-on skills but also the underpinning knowledge needed to change career should they wish to in later life.

“The new government should commit to enabling greater diversity of workplace-focused provision and ensure it is flexible and accessible enough for students at any stage of their working life. We hope to work with the new team of ministers to achieve that goal.”

As well as introducing maintenance grants for all learners undertaking level 4 and 5 qualifications; the report makes a number of other recommendations that it says would help boost the number of students and the esteem in which higher technical qualifications are held.

The report’s recommendations

The UK government in England should, says MillionPlus:

  • Introduce full maintenance grant support for all learners (including part-time and mature students) undertaking level 4 and 5 qualifications at registered providers to increase the take up of work-focused higher education
  • Encourage all providers of level 4 and 5 education to be registered with the Office for Students to guarantee that students receive a high-quality education experience and financial support during their studies
  • Recognise that colleges and universities are both key players in the provision of higher technical education and support collaboration between them to promote skills and qualifications
  • Improve and increase the data available on level 4 and 5 qualifications to enable a better understanding of the nature and scope of technical education at both colleges and universities
  • Ensure that all level 3 qualifications are designed to enable progression to further education opportunities, whether immediately or at a later point in a learner’s life
  • Provide adequate financial support to students undertaking qualifications at level 3 to remove barriers to study

This argument is far more complex than easy headlines or soundbites might suggest

The report also takes issue with simplistic views on technical education, stating that “an argument made by many commentators and politicians, in part driven by media perceptions, is that the UK has failed on technical education, caused by ‘too many’ people going to university.

“This argument is far more complex than easy headlines or soundbites might suggest. While there is real opportunity to grow and develop high-quality technical provision above level 3, the rhetoric of a trade-off with degree provision is misplaced.

“The debate often falls into the trap of pitting provision at universities in England against provision offered at other institutions, such as FE colleges. This misunderstands the higher education offer at universities. For many thousands of students in the UK, a university education is higher technical education, whether those students are taking sub-degree courses or postgraduate programmes, as it combines academic learning with technical training (based on training for a job role).

“Whether called level 4 and 5, technical education, sub-bachelor or sub-degree provision, these courses are part of the wider context of UK higher education. Therefore, there needs to be a broader consideration of what is of value within technical and higher education in order to promote a dynamic and responsive education and training system. Modern universities have played, and will continue to play, a substantial and growing role in providing students and employers with high-quality technical education that will meet the need of the UK’s economy in the 2020s.”

Last month, MillionPlus also criticised the government’s “marked lack of clarity” on plans for post-Brexit regional investment.

Read more:

‘Marked lack of clarity’ on post-Brexit regional investment – MillionPlus

Prof Thirunamachandran: Will the next decade be the soaring 20s for HE?

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