Need to know: 'College of the future' report revealed

In the final report published today, the Commission on the College of the Future sets out key areas for college reform

Kate Parker

College of the future: The Independent Commission on the College of the Future has published its report with recommendations for reform of the FE sector

The Independent Commission for the College of the Future has laid out the changes that need to be enacted across the UK for the sector vision for 2030 to be realised. 

The commission – founded in 2019 by the Association of Colleges – says that the “college of the future will empower people throughout their lives with the skills they need to get on in life, support better productivity and innovation of businesses, and strengthen every community’s sense of place”.

In the report published today, described by the chair of the commission, Professor Sir Ian Diamond, as a “rallying cry for radical and decisive action”, commissioners call for the following 11 changes.

Colleges of the future: recommendations

Introduce national strategies for education and skills to support economic growth, industrial change and lifelong learning

The commission says that all four UK governments need to produce a 10-year vision for education and training that enables “all individuals of all abilities and circumstances, and regardless of age or their career stage, to continue to learn, train and reskill” while supporting better connection and coordination between delivery partners.

The commission says that each nation should develop its own national strategy to provide a flexible implementation framework for colleges. 


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Introduce college network strategies to meet local priorities across the tertiary education system

Governments must introduce a duty on colleges to develop strategies across appropriate economic geographies that identify local and regional needs and priorities in line with the national strategy, say the commissioners. They add that this also requires a duty being placed on other providers to collaborate, including universities, schools, independent training providers and adult community learning providers.

Colleges as anchor institutions within the wider local and regional ecosystem

The report says that colleges must have a recognised role as key anchor institutions in the local community, supporting wider community action and services as well as providing education and learning – and that partners could include universities, the NHS and relevant charities.

A statutory right to lifelong learning

The commission calls for a statutory free lifetime entitlement to studying or training up to level 3 in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, and level 5 in Scotland – and says that maintenance support in grants and loans for FE, HE or advanced skills training should be available to all and at any age. They add that unemployed people should not lose their welfare benefits when they use their entitlement to reskill/ retrain full-time in areas of identified job opportunities and skills shortages.

Skills guarantee for a post-Covid economy and future labour market changes

A skills guarantee should provide free training to upskill employees at all levels, say the commissioners. The training should be flexible to meet sector needs and enable upskilling of employees over time in line with the needs of the business. They also argue for small and medium-sized entrepreises to be offered a contribution to wage replacement costs to encourage uptake and to contribute to productivity improvements in the wider economy.

A new strategic partnership with employers

The report advocates for colleges having close strategic partnerships with employers to ensure that the new national and network strategies meet the needs of employers as well as people and their communities.

A new support service to employers

Colleges should look to establish skills-focused employer hubs that are appropriate to the local labour market priorities and should coordinate with local and regional partners to open these facilities, says the report.

Stable funding and accountability frameworks for colleges

The commissioners urge governments to fund the further education sector on the basis of three-year block grant funding settlements, which should be based on high-level strategic outcome agreements focused on strategic impacts, aligned to the agreed local network strategies. 

A strategic relationship with governments and simplified processes

The report calls for the introduction of “a single post-16 education oversight and funding body within each nation” – saying that oversight systems across the four nations must be simplified, and that the pointless competition between colleges and with other education providers must be addressed.

An ambitious future college workforce strategy

A new social partnership between colleges, unions, employers and governments is needed to oversee key strategic priorities when it comes to the college workforce, says the report. It says that the professional status of the college teaching workforce must be recognised, staff development opportunities and wellbeing must be fostered, and there must be significant investment in the digital skills of the college workforce.

Diverse and representative systems leaders

The report calls for a review of leadership structure – and the collection data on college leaders and governors by protected characteristics, including across race, gender, sexuality and disability. The commissioners say that this must be used to identify gaps in diversity and to develop targeted recruitment and development programmes for under-represented groups.

The commissioners

  • Professor Sir Ian Diamond, chair, UK’s national statistician
  • Peter Cheese, chief executive, CIPD
  • Audrey Cumberford, principal and chief executive, Edinburgh College
  • Matthew Fell, chief UK policy director, CBI
  • Professor Ellen Hazelkorn, joint managing partner, BH Associates Education Consultants Ireland
  • Dr Stephen Farry MP, former minister for employment and learning, Northern Ireland
  • Lesley Giles, director, Work Advance
  • Rob Humphreys, council member, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales
  • David Jones, former chief executive, Coleg Cambria
  • Professor Ewart Keep, director, SKOPE, Oxford University
  • Shakira Martin, former president, NUS students’ union
  • Marie-Thérèse McGivern, former principal and chief executive, Belfast Metropolitan College
  • Steph McGovern, broadcaster and journalist
  • Amanda Melton, principal and chief executive, Nelson and Colne College
  • Paul Nowak, deputy general secretary, TUC
  • Nora Senior, executive chair (UK Regions/ Ireland), Weber Shandwick

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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