Labour launches ‘technical degrees’ policy

The Labour Party will introduce new “technical degrees” if it is elected at next May’s general election.

July 8, 2014

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Ed Miliband

These new qualifications will be the party’s “priority” when expanding university places if it wins power next year, although it is not yet clear exactly how it will incentivise universities to offer the new courses.

Speaking this morning, Labour leader Ed Miliband explained that the degrees would be jointly designed by universities and businesses and would have equal status to more “academic” degrees.

At a conference organised by educational charity the Sutton Trust, Mr Miliband said he was “proud” of the previous Labour government’s record of expanding higher education but added: “The conventional academic route doesn’t work for everyone.”

“Our priority for the expansion of universities will be on technical degrees,” he said, mentioning design, engineering and information and communications technology as subjects that could feature in the new qualifications.

Asked how the technical degrees would be different from the courses currently on offer at universities, Mr Miliband said that students would learn both at university and in the workplace.

“People will be getting a wage when they do this degree as part of the apprenticeship,” he said, and added: “These will be courses co-designed between business and universities.”

Mr Miliband stressed that expanding technical degrees would be the “priority” for a Labour government but this would not mean cutting the number of students on more academic courses.

Asked whether there would be a number of places set aside for technical degree students, Mr Miliband said that the party had not finalised the details of the policy.

“We’re looking at the issue of university expansion…how it’s going to be affordable, how it’s consistent with all the other things we want to do,” he said.

“There will be more to say about this between now and the general election, but today we’re setting out the principle that this is the priority for expansion.”

He said that the measure was the culmination of “One Nation” Labour’s vocational education reform programme to ensure that Britain and business is equipped with the skills needed to succeed in the future.

Other measures to improve vocational qualifications would include the creation of a Technical Baccalaureate for 16 to 19 year-olds, requiring all young people to continue studying English and Maths to 18 and raising the quality of further education by requiring lecturers to hold teaching qualifications.

The speech follows a poll by the Sutton Trust which shows that one third (34 per cent) of people say a degree-level apprenticeship would be better for somebody’s future career prospects than a university degree.

Only two in ten (21 per cent) think a traditional degree would be better, it also says.

Liam Byrne’s view:

Liam Byrne

With under 10 months to go to the general election, the battle of ideas is taking shape.

We know the Conservative Party’s script – and we know its flaws. But over the last fortnight a battery of reports have made the case for a different way forward. An approach that fosters faster growth – and growth that is more fairly shared. And running like a golden thread through the IPPR’s Condition of Britain report, Mike Wright’s review of supply chain needs, and Lord Adonis’ review of growth is one challenge: transforming Britain’s skills base.

That’s why I’m confident that the years ahead could be a golden age for educators: where we unite our teachers’ passion for public service and mission to teach in a movement that sets our country on a new and better path.

In a speech on 8 July, the Labour leader Ed Miliband set out one of the changes that we believe will help: Technical Degrees that give hundreds of thousands of people in Britain the chance to take a vocational route to the very highest level of skill. We’re clear: business needs it and workers - and students – want it.

All over Britain evidence of the country’s skills shortage is piling up. And it’s now clear that young people want a real choice of a vocational path to higher professional and technical skills. The Sutton Trust has published survey results showing that over 50 per cent of young people are very or fairly interested in doing an apprenticeship for a job they want to do, rather than going to university.

But right now, it’s very hard to pursue a vocational path to the highest level of qualification. Last year, the number of apprenticeships for the under-25s actually fell by 11,400.  And just 2 per cent of apprentices each year get the chance to study a degree. That is simply not good enough. The lack of supply means that it’s harder to secure a place with a firm sponsors students to degree level than it is to get into the University of Oxford.

We want a prestigious path for vocational education. A high quality vocational qualification – the Tech Bacc – available for 16 to 19-year-olds. English and Maths taught up to the age of 18. A drive to raise standards across further education to the level of the best, licencing Institutes of Technical Excellence. A big expansion of apprenticeship numbers delivered by harnessing the power of public procurement to encourage more firms to offer more apprenticeship opportunities, and a ‘something for something’ deal with employers offering more control over apprenticeship qualifications and funding, in return for more high quality opportunities.

Now, we’re taking the next step; prioritising Technical Degrees as our priority for expanding higher education. Not a second class choice, but the chance for universities, business, and college partners to work together to create degree-level programmes that can be delivered to those in work.

We’ve still got plenty of work to do to develop the detail behind our ideas; but we’re clear about our ambition. A country where there are many paths – not just one – to learn and train to the standard of the very best.

Liam Byrne is the Labour shadow minister for universities, science and skills.

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