Business chief predicts local, vocational future

January 31, 1997

Universities would become local vocational training institutions under a higher education model which is expected to hold great sway with Sir Ron Dearing.

Chris Humphries, representing the 81 regional training and enterprise councils as director of policy and strategy at the Training and Enterprise Council national council, has been summoned by Sir Ron to present the small business vision for the 21st century. On February 13, Mr Humphries will tell Sir Ron's committee of inquiry into higher education that the rise of mass higher education and the emergence of small and medium-size enterprises as the top graduate employers will dictate a radical new approach.

"TECs believe that the stratification of learning into higher and lower levels is unhelpful and irrelevant," Mr Humphries will tell Sir Ron. In the TECs' vision, higher education will be "an integral part of a high-quality, client-driven, lifelong learning infrastructure, accessible by all those who can benefit. It will be universally available in a variety of forms and locations, which reflect its evolution in the context of the local economy and labour market".

The TEC national council will demand:

* funding regimes should "incentivise learning which links to employability", and information on the quality and comparative performance of institutions should be made public

* the workplace should be an essential feature of all programmes

* degree and other programmes should be developed to enable accreditation within National Vocational Qualifications, rendering the existing classification structure "no longer relevant"

* research funding should be distributed more equitably and SMEs should be given greater access to research and development

* regional economic partnerships should ensure that all local communities are offered labour market-relevant programmes

* higher education providers should become more accountable.

Lack of mobility and the growth in student numbers have meant SMEs have replaced the big business as the most common destination for graduates. The submission is expected to be taken very seriously. Sir Ron asked small business leaders for a greater contribution to the debate at a rally in Birmingham last July.

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