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Government announces major overhaul of higher technical education

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has unveiled measures to boost the quality of higher technical education.

Among the proposals is the introduction of a new qualification, which will be supported by a government-backed quality mark.

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

Ofsted and the Office for Students will ensure the quality consistency of courses across these institutions.

The government claimed that not enough young people were studying qualifications such as higher national certificates and higher national diplomas, and this has led to skills shortages in the construction, manufacturing and digital sectors.

10% of the working age population in the UK have the highest level of technical education, compared to 20% in Germany and 34% in Canada.

Unveiling the measures on 14 July, Mr Williamson said: “Employers are struggling to find the computer programmers, engineers, electricians and technicians they need, and students of all ages are missing out on the high skill, high wage jobs that higher technical education can lead to.

“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.”

This announcement of a major reform of higher technical education, together with the introduction of T Levels, should go a long way to ending the skill mismatch and should be strongly supported by all political parties and industry

– Lord Sainsbury of Turville

The proposed reforms build on existing work, which will lead to the introduction of T Levels from September and the establishment of a network of Institutes of Technology, backed by up to £290 million.

Matthew Percival, CBI People and Skills Director, said: “Higher technical qualifications help people develop the skills that build careers. It’s fantastic to see this commitment from government to boost their uptake.

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

“With four-fifths of employers expecting to increase higher skilled roles in the coming years, offering clear progression routes through higher technical qualifications will be essential to creating a sustainable and inclusive future economy.”

Lord Sainsbury of Turville, chair of the independent panel of Technical Education, said: “At the present time there is a serious mismatch between the skills and knowledge delivered by our education system and the needs of our economy and society (34% of graduates are in non-graduate jobs, and industry faces a persistent shortage of technical skills)”.

“This announcement of a major reform of higher technical education, together with the introduction of T Levels, should go a long way to ending the skill mismatch and should be strongly supported by all political parties and industry.”

This news comes as Mr Williamson announced his intention to scrap Tony Blair’s target that 50% of young people enter higher education.

He suggested the target generated an “inbuilt snobbishness” that higher education is better further education, and that equipping young people with practical skills will help stimulate “many of our left-behind towns and regions”.

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