Exclusive: '10 to 15' Institutes of Technology to be established

Two years after the plan for IoTs was unveiled, confusion still reigns over the policy - but new details have emerged about the institutions

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Two years after institutes for technology (IoTs) were first proposed, details remain thin on the ground. But Tes can reveal that the Department for Education is planning to establish "around 10 to 15 IoTs" by the end of the current Parliament.

While the DfE has refused to reveal much detail about IoTs, significant new information has emerged through a job advert published by the DfE, which is recruiting an official to deliver the flagship institutions. According to a DfE job advert for a senior executive officer for IoT delivery - which has now been taken down - the application process for the new institutions will consist of two stages.

Initially, “consortia of employers and education providers” will be asked to come up with “a strategic case justifying clearly the market need and demand with robust evidence and a plan for delivery”. Then the DfE will ask for a full business case, with due diligence to be undertaken by “the end of the year”.

Details sketchy

These are the first particulars on the institutes to emerge since the Queen’s Speech last month confirmed IoTs will be a priority during the current Parliament. They would, according to the Conservative government, “enable more young people to take advanced technical qualifications and become key institutions for the development of the skills required by local, national and regional industry”.

Since IoTs were first announced two years ago, details have remained sketchy. When asked by Tes this week for details about expressions of interest and what form the new IoTs will take, the Department for Education refused to provide any information, simply saying that more details will be published “in due course”.

Owing to the slow drip feed of information on IoTs over the past two years – some of it apparently contradictory – interested parties were left with more questions than answers. After the first mention of IoTs was made in the government’s 2015 productivity plan, in January 2016, the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis) told Tes that officials were planning to test a variety of “different institutional and governance models”; two months later, the department confirmed that “around 25” organisations had been in touch to express their interest in the programme.

'Prestigious' institutes

At the invitation of Bis officials, sector organisations such as the Association of Colleges and the Collab Group also made their representations, calling for the institutes to be based within existing colleges structures. After a further nine months with no announcements, in October 2016 Robert Halfon, then skills and apprenticeships minister, told Tes that the “idea” for IoTs was still being developed. This was soon confirmed: in January, Prime Minister Theresa May pledged £170 million to fund the new “prestigious” institutes.

But any assumption that the IoT agenda would be spearheaded by existing colleges was abruptly shattered by the publication of the Conservative Party’s general election manifesto in May. The document proclaimed that IoTs would be “backed by leading employers and linked to leading universities” – and would be created in “every major city in England”. Rather than specialising in higher-level technical qualifications, the manifesto revealed that they were now expected to provide courses “at degree level and above, specialising in technical disciplines, such as Stem, while also providing higher-level apprenticeships and bespoke courses for employers”.

So will IoTs reside in the world of further or higher education? According to David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, the make-up of learners likely to be interested in IoTs makes it “very obvious” that colleges should be the driving force behind them. “They are the organisations that have the experience and that most of those young people are coming from, and they have the employer relationships,” he said.

Ian Pretty, chief executive of the Collab Group, said one key issue still to be addressed was that of the scale and ambition of the IoT movement: “In five years, is 10 to 15 IoTs really ambitious? You have colleges keen to do this, linked in with universities – are we really being ambitious enough?”

The DfE said more details would be published "in due course".

This is an edited version of an article in the 7 July edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Your new-look Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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