Baroness Wolf: Review of post-18 education funding 'isn't just about HE'

The ongoing review of post-18 education is as much about the people who do not go to university as it is about those in higher education, says one of the review’s panellists

 The government’s review of funding for the post-18 education system is enormously ambitious, Baroness Alison Wolf has said

The government’s review of funding for the post-18 education system is “enormously ambitious”, Baroness Wolf has said.

Alison Wolf, the author of the influential Wolf Report, a 2011 review of vocational education that set the wheels in motion for major reforms across the further education system, was speaking at the final in the Franklin Debates series organised by the Worshipful Company of Educators and City and Guilds.

She sits on the independent panel supporting the government’s review of post-18 education and funding, which is being chaired by Philip Augar, former non-executive director of the Department for Education. She said: “If you read its terms of reference, you will realise that it is actually enormously ambitious.

“It is actually at least as much about skills and people who do not go to university as it is about higher education. It is not a review of tuition fees. It is not a higher education review. It really is a review of post-18 education funding. I think it’s an opportunity that 10 or 15 years ago nobody would have been given.”

‘There is always a risk’

In response to the question “Skills reform – a revolution? Or just another rebrand”, Baroness Wolf said she felt it was a revolution.

In an opening speech to the audience at City, University of London, she said that the government felt the urgent need to reform the system because university is not the “magic ticket” that it once was for career success. The government was also considering the impact of the rise of machine-learning and artificial intelligence (AI) and Brexit, she added.

Baroness Wolf said that there had been many major efforts to reform technical education before, and pointed to the “ill-fated diploma”, adding: “Of course, there is always the risk with a very ambitious government-led, qualification-based reform that it won’t do what it sets out to do."

Things feel different this time though, she said. “Theresa May and Philip Hammond actually personally believe in technical education. The reason I know this is because they have actually put money into it. On T levels the most remarkable thing is that actually the Treasury put money there”.

‘A game-changer’

She also said that the national colleges programme showed the government’s intent, and the apprenticeship levy was also a “game-changer”.

“The apprenticeship levy is rather remarkable. It happened, partly, because of the clear evidence that was put in front of civil servants by a number of people, including me. Which showed not only were we not spending a lot of money on training in most companies, but the training spend and activity was going down, " explained Baroness Wolf.

“This was coming out of one national survey after another. Nationally not only were British employers spending less and less, but they were at a low point to begin with. So we were actually facing a real crisis.

“I think it is very important. Whether or not we make the most of it, I think that is subsidiary because what it has been is a game-changer. I don’t think it will go away because there is too much money at stake. It would be hard for the Treasury to just haul it all back and spend it on roads."

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