As more evidence of the biting pandemic effects on young people and adults comes to light, the new report from the Independent Commission on the College of the Future calls for colleges and skills to be made central to COVID recovery plans in England. Last week, the latest unemployment rate revealed the number of people out of work was at its highest since 2016 – at 4.8%, with thousands of others worried about losing their jobs in the coming months.
Currently, the post-16 education and skills system is not set up to empower colleges to offer the full range of opportunities needed for people to reach their potential, especially for the 50% that do not go to university. Nor does the system enable colleges to best meet the needs of businesses facing enormous change and challenges.
Today’s report, The English College of the Future, sets out recommendations, that if implemented through the government’s upcoming FE White paper, will put employer voice at the heart of the system to help people find the right courses or qualifications to transform their lives. This requires sufficient funding to support upskilling and retraining as jobs change. Those made redundant will gain skills for good jobs, learning will be opened up to people on benefits and those in insecure work, and businesses will have advice and support to find and develop the skilled people they need as we recover from the ongoing pandemic.
Central recommendations for the anticipated FE White Paper to create the post-16 education and skills system needed for the future include:
Introducing a legal duty on colleges to establish networks across appropriate economic geographies – which must be matched by a duty on all other post-16 education providers – to collaborate in the interests of students, communities and the economy.
Forming a cross-departmental ministerial taskforce/ body to oversee a new UK Government 10-year strategy for education and skills to drive the industrial strategy and other priorities, with DFE, BEIS, DWP, MHCLG and others represented, together with employers and other key stakeholders.
Funding colleges to deliver specialised and targeted business support, creating employer “hubs” in key sectors and occupational pathways, especially in digital, construction, engineering, and health and social care. This includes a new, refreshed genuine strategic partnership between colleges and SMEs to get people back into secure employment quickly and drive innovation.
Creating a statutory right to lifelong learning by making lifelong learning accessible and financially viable to all through offering equal loans and grants across further education and higher education so that everyone can access the training they need, no matter where they come from, their circumstance or their background.
Investing in colleges through three-year grant settlements to give colleges the confidence and funding to deliver strategically for people, productivity and place in the economic rebuild.