Proposals for the formation of a new accreditation body for higher level technical qualifications would complement existing relationships between universities and further education colleges rather than pitting them against each other, the president of a national FE group has argued.
In its Breaking the Mould paper, the Association of Colleges (AoC) calls for the creation of a Technical Education Accreditation Council (TEAC), which would have the power to accredit courses and training programmes.
The council, which would be made up of representatives from a number of organisations from across the education and skills sector, would promote technical education to ensure the continued supply of technical and professional skills “crucial to the long-term prosperity of the nation”, the report says.
It adds that the TEAC would set standards for work-related education and training to ensure that quality is maintained, and would also sustain institutional autonomy, drawing on the “autonomous institutions and robust awarding powers” of the UK higher education system.
Earlier this year, a government consultation on the subject raised fears among some universities that a new body would place them in direct competition with further education colleges. But John Widdowson, president of the AoC, told Times Higher Education that this would not be the case.
“In the majority of cases, colleges will continue to work in partnership with universities and other higher education providers, offering degrees and other awards,” he said. “It is also important that colleges and universities continue to work together to ensure that a new qualifications landscape allows students to transfer between different routes. Above all, the two approaches should be seen as complementary rather than in competition.”
The report says that presently there is no “coherent validation and award system” for technical and professional education, which results in “constant policy tinkering”. It also cites evidence that universities are often “disinterested in short-cycle provision” – higher education courses lasting less than three years – and that the TEAC would address this.
“A flexible approach to the design, validation and awarding of higher level technical and professional qualifications will broaden the choice of good-quality courses available to colleges, employers and students,” Mr Widdowson said.
“In particular, it will allow recognition for tightly focused and job-specific higher level skills to meet the needs of a fast-moving workplace.”