REBALANCING THE ECONOMY

Richard Evans is the Chairman of the CIPHE’s Education and Training Group. In this issue of ETM, he looks at some of the problems affecting colleges.

What are the issues?

What impact has the government’s strategy to rebalance the economy and re-establish the manufacturing base of the country had on colleges? The current picture is very mixed. It’s mainly negative in spite of the apparent commitment to apprenticeships with statements about improving technical and vocational education and training in FE colleges and training providers, both of which significantly contribute to strategies for rebalancing the economy.

Colleges are feeling the squeeze

However the current commentaries in the press sadly highlight the factors that show why there is very little progress in these worthy endeavours. Typical comments and concerns are shown below:

• The overall share of apprenticeships for under 25 has fallen from 84% (2009-10) to 64% (2014) and for under 19 year olds from 43% to 28% over the same period.

• A multitude of concerns about the quality of the emerging apprenticeships frameworks include: major issues about funding; the involvement of micro/small/medium enterprises; the duration; the balance between on and off job activity; the content of the programmes and the level of the programmes.

• Reduced funding for FE colleges – teaching budgets have been cut by £1.1 bn i.e.25% by the coalition government. Also worrying messages from politicians and their officials about the future of FE – a number arguing for closure of colleges in order to save money!

• The British Chamber of Commerce survey of 3,000 firms showed 90% of companies thought schools leavers were not ready for work. The survey also identified that 50% of firms thought university graduates were not ready for employment.

• The country needs 75,000 more engineers in the next five years (EIT).

• The high number of students graduating with dubious degrees that do little to match the requirements of the future workforce within the supposed rebalanced economy – a classic example of an imbalanced supply and demand equation. The country confronts a short fall of 40,000 graduates every year coupled with significant shortages in jobs associated with technical and vocational education and training.

• 20% of employers did not support work experience programmes (UK Commis- sion for Employment and Skills).

• Only 13% of young people study mathematics after 16 – the competence in numeracy/mathematics is essential in technical and vocational subjects.

• 21% of the country’s workforce requires scientific knowledge and training to be competent at their current jobs and yet the number of students studying science and mathematics after 16 remains low.

• The OECD survey in 2014 concluded England possessed little high quality technical and vocational provision for post-secondary level compared with our major competitors.

Unfortunately I could continue with this list. What I am attempting is to show, possibly in a simplistic way, is the multitude of factors that will impede any real progress on rebalancing the economy. Many of the factors are long standing and embedded in the current culture of this country.

One essential element is to fundamentally change the current education and training system, not the usual short term tinkering but a root and branch review and reform. Pivotal to this is a long term recognition and support of the importance of post- secondary stage of vocational education and training. Colleges and training providers must be adequately resourced and key strategically important subjects promoted positively and given the status they deserve.

I reserve my case.

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