Single funding bodies would heal UK’s HE-FE divide, says report

Paper says ‘too often colleges and universities have been pitted against each other’

二月 7, 2022
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Post-16 education and skills in the UK would be better served through a single funding and regulatory body in each of the four nations to help end the “tension” and competition between higher and further education.

That is one of the key recommendations of a report on how universities and colleges across the UK can work together to close skills gaps and reduce regional inequality.

The report, by Sheffield Hallam University, working on behalf of the Civic University Network, and the Independent Commission on the College of the Future, says funding pressures and a lack of joined-up policy have driven a wedge between the two sectors.

It says that “too often colleges and universities have been pitted against each other” in policy and funding debates and that this “tension can play out in local and regional relationships”.

“Policy making across FE and HE can often appear piecemeal, poorly joined up, and lacking in long-term strategic focus,” it adds.

It argues that the two sectors should be aligned towards the common goal of helping their local communities to plug skills gaps and suggests a series of reforms to aid reaching such a target.

It also notes that the UK government’s Levelling Up White Paper on reducing regional inequality makes improving skills one of its 12 “missions”, “potentially presenting opportunities for colleges and universities to work together in order to deliver these critical place-based agendas and targets”.

In a series of recommendations for the governments of the UK’s four nations, the report calls for balanced investment in FE and HE to “ensure the whole education and skills system is sustainably funded”.

The governments should also “ensure a joined-up approach to regulation and oversight”, something that would be “best delivered through a single funding and regulatory body”.

Although it says this might be “more complicated in some nations”, there should be at “a minimum, a more aligned and complementary regulatory approach” than currently exists. Wales is already moving towards such a system, with the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research due to start overseeing the entire post-16 sector from next year.

Meanwhile, the report also makes a number of recommendations for sector leaders on how they can build local networks where colleges and universities work together for the mutual benefits of their communities.

These include developing “a cohesive education and skills offer for local people, employers and communities built around lifelong learning, ensuring inefficient duplication and competition is reduced”.

Richard Calvert, chair of the Civic University Network Partnership Group and deputy vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam, said there were “excellent examples of collaboration across FE and HE – but too often those examples are the exception rather than the rule.

“A joined-up further and higher education sector across the UK could be transformative in redressing regional inequalities, delivering lifelong learning and underpinning the levelling-up agenda.”

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “The report rightly calls for us to do away with the historically narrow view of education pathways that have ingrained rigid ideas of what and who a college or a university is for.

“It’s led to unhelpful arguments about who gets a bigger slice of the pie when it comes to funding and finite resources.”



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