UK plans new higher technical qualifications focused on job skills

Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to be gatekeeper for new university and college courses

July 14, 2020
Engineer Showing Apprentice How To Measure CAD Drawings
Source: iStock

The UK government has announced a major overhaul of higher technical education, including the introduction of new qualifications supported by a government-backed quality mark.

Universities and colleges will be able to offer the qualifications, being introduced from September 2022 onwards, only if they have been approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

The new courses “will only be approved where they provide the skills employers need, providing much-needed clarity for students and employers”, the government said.

It claimed that not enough young people were studying qualifications such as higher national certificates and higher national diplomas, which sit between A levels and degrees, leading to skills shortages in the construction, manufacturing and digital sectors.

These qualifications are currently offered by universities and colleges, “but research shows that the quality of courses on offer can be variable, and it can be hard for students and employers to find the ones that are right for them”, the government said.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said that this left employers struggling to fill jobs and students being unable to access attractive roles.

“The measures I have announced today will boost the quality and take-up of these qualifications to help plug skill gaps, level up opportunities and support our economic recovery,” Mr Williamson said.

The government said that it would also work with Ofsted and the Office for Students to ensure that the quality of courses was consistent across higher and further education institutions.

Matthew Percival, director of people and skills at the Confederation of British Industry, welcomed the announcement.

“Putting employers in the driving seat will give them confidence that courses on offer meet their needs,” he said.

The announcement follows Mr Williamson’s recent pledge signalling a rebalancing of the country’s post-18 education system towards further and technical education, as well as the promise of a White Paper that would set out plans for a “German-style” further education system in Britain – although some education experts have observed that Germany’s excellence in technical education is largely inseparable from the structure of its economy, which is far more focused on high-end manufacturing than the UK’s.

It has also been noted that the government’s recent emphasis on further education has coincided with its electoral success in smaller towns, often found in former Labour strongholds in the Midlands and the north of the country, that have a further education college but not a university.

Greg Walker, chief executive of the MillionPlus mission group of modern universities, said that the proposals were a “sensible step forward”.

However, he said, ministers should go further and restore maintenance grants for those studying for higher technical qualifications.

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Reader's comments (2)

One might have more confidence in this if the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education had a better track record in supporting existing work. Their approach is random and arbitrary, and it's noticeable that they include representatives of employers and students but NOT educators on their advistory boards and in consultations.
Day by day this Government is moving the line defining University Independence so that the space covered by "independence" is getting smaller and smaller. First they tighten the access to public funding, next they limit the amount Universities get from Government for Research and Development and now they will decide what Universites will teach by declining to fund courses they don't like. Watch out. They may wish to control what staff (including Vice Chancellors and Principals) are paid. Universities as a sector have only themselves to blame. They have been too slow to reform, cut costs and raise standards and quality of teaching and learning. Too internally focussed to realise how fast the world outside their campus was moving and in which direction. You must now engage and fight to improve and survive.