Ever since Lord Leitch published his interim review of skills needs, the prospect of a participation rate of 65 per cent for degree-level courses has had many universities rubbing their hands in anticipation. The figure has disappeared mysteriously from the final review, published this week. But with graduates currently amounting to only 26 per cent of the working population, rather than the 40 per cent required by 2020, this would be the least that would be needed. After all, 70 per cent of the 2020 workforce is already over the school-leaving age, and there is no immediate sign of a surge in higher education enrolments. Nevertheless it is clear from the final version of the review that universities should not expect too much of the skills-inspired expansion to flock to their existing provision. Leitch is talking about degree level, not necessarily traditional degrees.
After the difficulties a 50 per cent target has brought, the Government was hardly likely to increase its formal commitment in any case. But ministers have indicated that they support the review's emphasis on workplace learning. This year's brief for the Higher Education Funding Council for England spoke of little else. Some universities are beginning to carve out a role in programmes such as the Train for Gain initiative. More will have to follow suit if the Leitch agenda is to benefit higher, as well as further, education.