Only four Institutes of Technology (IoTs) are currently operational – despite claims by the Conservative Party that 12 have already opened.
The institutions – focused on delivering Stem at levels 4 and 5 – featured in the Tories' general election manifesto, published on Sunday, which claimed they "connect high-quality teaching in science, technology, engineering and maths to business and industry".
However, in spite of the fact that the Conservative Party website states that “we have already opened 12 Institutes of Technology”, a Tes investigation has found that only four of the first wave of the £170 million IoTs are up and running. These are largely in existing college buildings, but formally came into existence in September.
The Conservative website goes on to say that too many areas of the country don’t have access to an IoT and so the government would expand the number of Institutes of Technology in England from 12 to 20.
The lead partners behind four of the IoTs – Harrow and Uxbridge colleges, Exeter University, the University of Lincoln and York College – told Tes they were at least partially up and running. But at least three of the other projects are now working towards an opening date in 2021.
Specialised technical training
Institutes of Technology are meant to offer specialised technical training at levels 4 and 5 – above A level but below degree level. The new institutes were first set out in the government’s Fixing the Foundations productivity plan in 2015. In its 2017 general election manifesto, the Conservative Party said it would aim to establish an IoT “in every major city in England”.
In April, the first 12 winning bids to create the inaugural Institutes of Technology (IoTs) were announced – collaborations between universities, further education colleges and employers including Nissan, Siemens and Microsoft. Nine would be led by colleges, with three led by a university, the government said.
The Yorkshire and Humber Institute of Technology was one of the first IoTs to get off the ground, when it formally came into existence in September. However, while some of its programmes are already being delivered, including digital courses at York College, others will follow in stages over the next two years at the seven colleges and two universities involved in the project.
“The majority of our contracts are signed in principle,” said York’s deputy chief executive Louise Doswell, with the dedicated web pages on the college’s website set to go live “very shortly”. The first programmes on offer through the IoT are in existing college buildings, but capital building programmes will follow.
“We’re open for business,” she added. “A number of our partners have got staged projects. In terms of York College, we have our own branding up, our curriculum being delivered and a number of our other partners are delivering the curriculum but won’t necessarily have all of the specialist equipment until slightly later on in the financial year. All of us have got different completion dates as part of the IoT contract.”
In October, the West London IoT had £8.6 million in government funding approved. Education secretary Gavin Williamson said at the time that it was “fantastic news”. The IoT is led by Harrow College and Uxbridge College and also involves Brunel University London.
Exeter University’s IoT formally opened on 9 September, with over 100 courses now labelled IoT courses. The IoT led by the University of Lincoln has also begun to deliver courses.
Other colleges, among them New College Durham, are expecting their IoTs to be signed off over the coming months. John Widdowson, principal and chief executive, said: “We plan to have it signed off before the end of the calendar year.” He explained that with a number of colleges, a university and a private provider involved, the set-up was more complicated than elsewhere. “It all requires sign off from the individual partners.”
His college had already committed significant resource to extending its Stem provision when IoTs were announced, said Mr Widdowson, and the IoT would be following a distributive model, with provision across a larger area, rather than being centrally delivered on one campus. “We will have about 8,000 learners over five years. About a quarter of them will be higher apprentices, about the same number will be full time, and the rest will be employed, part-time students.”
Solihull College said it was planning to launch its IoT “early in 2020 with new facilities becoming available for students from September 2020”. The college said in a statement that the launch had been delayed due to “the complex legal structure as a result of our innovative regional collaboration…We are working with DfE to sign-off our Institute of Technology and planning complete this before Christmas.”
Barking and Dagenham College is yet to announce an planned opening date, but said this was likely to also be in early 2020. A statement said: "The college did not agree an opening date or timescale for signing off the IoT agreement with the DfE, so no date has been missed. We are currently in the pre-award stage and the DfE requires all parts of the pre-award stage to be completed before the proposal is signed off. We expect this to conclude by the end of the year. Our IoT remains on track and we are confident we will deliver in line with our original IoT proposal.”
'Hub and spokes' model
Paul Phillips, principal and chief executive of Weston College, said its IoT was a partnership with UWE Bristol, Bath College, Yeovil College and Gloucestershire College.
"Our model of approach is that of a ‘hub and spokes’ model which will open in totality during 2020 and 2021, reflecting both the needs of business and also ensuring all capital developments also complete in this time period," he added. "The project is proving to be extremely exciting, as is the attention it is getting from business and industry. Current talks with the [Department for Education] are positive and we look forward to full advancement of all aspects of the project."
Three further IoTs are unlikely to formally open until 2021, the lead providers told Tes.
A spokesperson for Milton Keynes College said it was continuing to work towards a September 2021 launch. "As with any large investment project, co-ordinating with multiple stakeholders requires time to ensure we get things right. We hope to be able to provide a further update within the next six to eight weeks. Meanwhile, we are already ramping up our September 2020 digital student recruitment campaigns in preparation for building our IoT student pipeline within the college.”
Queen Mary University of London said work to develop the London City Institute of Technology was progressing in line with the schedule outlined in their original successful bid: "This project includes the construction of a major new purpose-built training facility, which is not scheduled to open until 2021-22."
The Black Country and Marches Institute of Technology will be housed in a purpose-built new facility in Dudley, paid for by £16.8 million in funding from the Department for Education.
Work on site will begin in the new year, with the institute on track to open in September 2021, according to Dudley College chief executive Lowell Williams. The college will have incurred close to £2 million in costs by Christmas, he said.
“With the Black Country and Marches IoT, we have been slower at having reached all the licences and capital agreements than we would have hoped, because we would very much have hoped to have done that by June.
“But in our case, it doesn’t have any impact on our opening date. What it has meant is that the college has had to work at risk for a longer period of time, because we’ve been incurring costs all the way through. We’d hoped we would have recouped those costs in the summer, and we still haven’t recouped them yet. I think that’s a common feature [in the IoT projects].”