Government promises multi-million fund for ‘high-quality degree alternatives’

The bulk of the package – the Growth Fund – will support institutions to buy equipment and “develop the business links they need” to offer skills-based training. 

The government has pledged to spend up to £30m from this summer on “high-quality degree alternatives” in England, on the back of numerous pledges to boost alternative higher technical education.  

The package consists of three parts: an £18 million Growth Fund to support further and higher education providers to expand Higher Technical Education; a fund of up to £10 million for Institutes of Technology (IoTs); and £2 million for an in-work upskilling programme

The bulk of the package – the Growth Fund – will support institutions to buy equipment and “develop the business links they need” to offer appropriate training for the digital, construction, health and science sectors. 

The IoT fund of up to £10 million is to develop “short and modular courses in STEM disciplines”, ready for autumn 2021, the Department for Education (DfE) said. These “free to access” courses should enable adults to “rapidly reskill or upskill”, the announcement continued. Twelve IoTs were approved by the government so far – with a further 13 ‘wave 2’ applications currently under consideration. These providers are the product of partnerships between universities, colleges and employers. The North East Institute for Technology, for example, is a collaboration between six FE colleges, Newcastle University, automobile manufacturer Nissan and civil engineering firm ESH Group. 

The government pledged in July 2020 to introduce a national approval scheme to show which higher technical qualifications meet employer needs. The first of these newly approved courses – all in digital subjects – will be revealed this September by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), an executive non-departmental public body. The IfATE will next invite awarding bodies to submit HTQs in construction, health and science courses on 5 July 2021 “for approval against employer-led occupational standards” in time for 2023. A comprehensive suite of HTQ-approved programs will be ready by 2025. HTQs are designed to be an alternative route for students completing T-level or A-level courses at age 18. 

The government said a review of further and higher education – carried out in 2018/19 – identified varying quality as a key barrier to improving technical education. That same review also cited recruiting and retaining staff as a significant problem.

We want to counter the myth that a degree is the only way to a good job
– Gavin Williamson, education secretary

Over two years since its publication, the government is expected to respond to the post-18 review of education and funding (the Augar Review) alongside the comprehensive spending review later this year.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Investment in higher technical skills will support more people to secure exciting and rewarding careers, fill skills gaps in our economy and help us build back better from the pandemic.

“We also want to counter the myth that a degree is the only way to a good job. This funding will help open up more high-quality training alternatives for people, empowering them to get the skills they need to build the life they want, wherever they live.”

A spokesperson for Universities UK said: Expanding higher technical courses is a positive move which will increase choice for learners of all ages and help employers meet their skills needs as the nation looks to rebuild from the impact of COVID-19.

“Universities have been involved with developing these qualifications and many universities are ready to scale up their alternatives to the traditional three-year degree. UUK is working closely with government, employers and local partners to help make these qualifications a success.”

Read more: Vice-chancellors launch higher technical education report

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