Higher technical qualifications: how to make them work

The higher technical qualifications offered by the University Centre Leeds are helping to close skills gaps, write these leaders

Janet Faulkner and Tim Balmforth

Higher technical qualifications: how our offer works

Higher Technical Qualifications represent the next stage of the government’s push to plug skills shortages in the economy by producing the kind of work-ready graduates that industry has been saying for years that it needs.

Like T levels, HTQs are designed to raise the esteem of technical subjects and – from September 2022, when the first accredited courses come on stream – will also provide a readily understood quality mark for employers and students.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) has just published a list of those institutions that have become the first to achieve HTQ status; all for courses tailored to the digital sector, with more subjects to follow.

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Here at the University Centre Leeds, we are proud to have been included in that list – and in so doing, have become the first educational institution in Yorkshire to gain the accreditation.

Higher technical qualifications: the accreditation process 

We can now promote our foundation degrees in cyber security, software development and computer science as having HTQ status and see the accreditation as an endorsement of the quality of our courses.

The approval process has been rigorous and not only ensured the calibre of our courses but also that they met employer needs. The development of HTQs came about in response to the government's plans for the future of higher technical education in which they identified a shortage of people with level 4 and level 5 qualifications.

The research identified a need for a different type of qualification to a standard, three year degree. HTQs are very much skills and behaviours focused and are about applying the knowledge in ways that prepare them for the workplace.

To be accredited as HTQs the courses have to be developed in consultation with employers to ensure that they are developing the right knowledge, skills and behaviours. For us, this involved discussions regarding both content and assessment methods to ensure that students could hit the ground running when they went into employment.

The accreditation process has involved a lot of detailed mapping against national occupational standards and consultation with employers: hard work but worth it, because the process has led us to adapting our courses to make them even better.

Closing skills gaps 

As a result of this, we now have three courses which have the HTQ quality mark endorsing their quality and relevance to employers. The digital sector currently contributes some £149 billion per year to the UK economy, according to business data portal Statista, but is also suffering – as a report published by WorldSkills UK in March made clear – from significant skills gaps.

Our HTQ accredited courses at University Centre Leeds have been tailored specifically to address that problem. These HTQs are in line with our commitment to the Stem strategy, alongside the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) priorities, to address the predicted and current shortfalls in skills in the area.

The latest LEP labour market report has highlighted a shortage of core technical skills, and more specifically a shortage of software developers and testers, support specialists and web developers. Data analyst, network engineering and cybersecurity jobs are also on the increase locally and nationally.

According to the Leeds City Region Labour Market report, the top occupations in greatest demand overall, based on volume of job postings, are software developer/engineer and computer support specialist, IT project manager and computer systems engineer.

Our HTQs are designed to equip our students with these in-demand skills. Some of the more nuanced skills such as SQL, JavaScript, Microsoft C#, software development and .NET are also covered in our HTQs, ensuring our students meet the needs of the growing digital sector.

Our foundation courses have gained HTQ accreditation through meeting the strict guidelines set out in a wide range of occupational standards, thus giving them more vocational value based on the in-demand skills that have been highlighted across a range of digital careers.

The work involved mapping a set of occupational standards in data analysis, cyber security, software development, software testing and networking to our foundation degree programmes at level 4 and level 5. This quality mark will set us apart from our competitors and demonstrates our commitment to providing digital professionals who are work ready, with the skills employers are looking for.

Janet Faulkner is the dean of higher education, and Tim Balmforth is the head of HE digital and STEM at University Centre Leeds

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Janet Faulkner and Tim Balmforth

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