More colleges could be expected to specialise in individual disciplines and some could even become “institutes of technology” as part of a new strategy to boost the UK's productivity.
The proposal is set out in the government’s productivity plan, Fixing the Foundations, which is published today.
The 88-page document, signed by chancellor George Osborne and business secretary Sajid Javid, sets out how the government will improve productivity by encouraging long-term investment and promoting a “dynamic economy".
It says that professional and technical education should give people “clear, high-quality routes” into employment, and that “strong institutions” such as National Colleges are needed to deliver the higher-level skills employers need.
The report says the government wants “strong” local employers to take a leading role in establishing a post-16 skills system that is “responsive to local economic priorities”.
But it also says the government “anticipates” many colleges will be invited to specialise according to those priorities – “to provide better targeted basic skills alongside professional and technical education” - and that some will even be invited to become “prestigious” institutes of technology to deliver high-standard provision at levels 3, 4 and 5.
“Building on international best practice, institutes of technology will be sponsored by employers, registered with professional bodies and aligned with apprenticeship standards,” it says.
The Association of Colleges (AoC) said it was pleased the government recognised that a strong professional and technical education system was needed to boost productivity.
Chief executive Martin Doel said: “The government is also right to identify the need for well-supported and strong institutions to make this happen.
“Colleges must be at the core of this, whether as institutes of technology or in providing high-quality career pathways that are responsive to the local economy.
“Colleges have and will continue to adapt and we anticipate that they will now be able to evolve in new ways, forging even stronger links with employers, professional bodies and local agencies.”
The plan also reveals the government will move away from the funding-per-qualification model for adult learners and, with input from local areas and employers, will develop options to ensure provision is targeted at training “with the greatest impact”.
David Hughes, chief executive of adult education body Niace, said that although this proposal was a “very welcome” step, the proposals as a whole had too narrow a focus on young people and qualifications, ignoring those already in work.
“We need to get to grips with our ageing population and start to view that as an opportunity rather than a problem,” he said. “Older workers have all sorts of skills, but they often lack the support and the confidence to be able to learn new skills as the workplace evolves.”