Higher technical education: Government reveals plans

Adults set to benefit from short, modular higher technical courses in Stem disciplines like engineering and construction

Kate Parker

Skills: The government has unveiled plans for higher technical education

Further education providers are set to benefit from a new £18 million Growth Fund to expand high-quality higher technical education, the Department for Education has announced. 

In what the government says is a new push to make high-quality alternatives to university degrees available to adults, the Department for Education has announced a package to boost higher-level technical skills.

The package will also include up to £10 million for Institutes of Technology to develop and deliver higher technical short and modular courses in Stem disciplines like engineering, manufacturing, construction and digital. The courses will be available from autumn 2021 and will be free to access. 

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Background: Reforms of higher technical qualifications announced

In July 2020, the DfE announced plans to reform higher technical qualifications. At the time, just one in 10 adults in England held a higher technical qualification as their highest qualification. And only 4 per cent of young people achieve a qualification at higher technical level by the age of 25, compared with the 33 per cent who get a degree or above.

Investment in higher technical education 'will fill skills gaps'

The government cemented the plans in the Skills for Jobs white paper, published in January. 

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Investment in higher technical skills will support more people to secure exciting and rewarding careers, fill skills gaps in our economy and help us build back better from the pandemic.

“We also want to counter the myth that a degree is the only way to a good job. This funding will help open up more high-quality training alternatives for people, empowering them to get the skills they need to build the life they want, wherever they live.”

The package also includes £2 million to support the development and delivery of high-quality modular training focused on upskilling employees to help address future skills gaps in high-value manufacturing. 

From September 2022, the government will start rolling out newly approved higher technical qualifications, starting with digital. Construction and health and science will follow in 2023, with a full suite of qualifications rolled out by 2025.

Arti Saraswat, senior policy manager for higher education at the Association of Colleges, said: "There are many routes to a good job, and every route deserves the respect, support and funding to make it a viable option for anyone who wants to take it.

"We welcome the incentive for providers to deliver higher technical qualifications – as we move closer to the end of the furlough scheme, this investment is timely and helpful. But government will also need to support providers further by providing funding that goes beyond this year. There is also a need for maintenance support and student finance so that those who would benefit most from modular learning and HTQs are able to take them up."

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said: "Higher technical skills must form part of a ladder of opportunity, so it’s good to see a focus on this. Our aim should be for more people to gain higher-level skills in different ways, rather than to reduce the number of people studying to level 6.

"That will require rebuilding the missing rungs of the ladder by increasing participation in basic skills and levels 2 and 3, so more people are ready to progress up. On top of that, we need close working with employers and more significant measures to improve funding and support for higher technical education."

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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