Universities should work in close collaboration with FE colleges to create a ‘local tertiary ecosystem’, a new report has said today.
The report, entitled Value-able lessons: How the government can promote a "high value" higher education system, and published by think tank EDSK, says universities need major reform to ensure they deliver better value for students, taxpayers and local communities.
Recommendations from EDSK include universities categorising themselves as either “local” or “national”, with local universities becoming engines of local economic growth, social mobility and lifelong learning.
Need to know: 'College of the future' report revealed
Autumn exams: What financial support is available?
Local universities should be tasked with delivering courses at degree and sub-degree level that promote civic engagement with the local community and support employers, says the report.
It adds that this would achieved by working in close collaboration with a new “tertiary education commissioner” as well as local FE colleges’, and also calls for credit transfer agreements between local universities and colleges.
The final report from the Commission on the College of the Future, published last year, also recommended collaboration between further education colleges and universities. It called on the governments to introduce a duty on colleges and other providers, including universities, to develop strategies across appropriate economic geographies that identify local and regional needs and priorities in line with the national strategy.
And while the new Post-16 Education and Skills Bill proposes the creation of local skills improvement plans which will see stakeholders in local areas develop plans to ensure education provision in the area meets skills needs, universities are not specifically included.
The Department for Education is expected to outline major reforms to the higher education system in England in the coming weeks.
Universities must deliver 'high-value' degrees
Tom Richmond, director of EDSK and a former advisor to ministers at the Department for Education, said: “Universities can undoubtedly make a major contribution to local, regional and national prosperity, yet the behaviour of some institutions has led to a perception among policymakers and politicians that they are more interested in attracting tuition fee income than they are serving their students, local communities and society as a whole.
“Splitting the sector into ‘local’ and ‘national’ universities as well as giving each type of university a clear purpose and set of responsibilities would make the value of HE more apparent to students, employers and local communities. This new approach would also help reassure ministers and taxpayers that all universities are focused on delivering ‘high value’ degrees that are worthy of the billions invested by the government in the HE sector every year.”
The report also urged the government to introduce a post-18 funding model based on “Individual Education Budgets” by 2030.
It says: “The government should place up to £20,000 into every learner’s ‘budget’ account, and learners would then be free to choose the course (university degree, college course or apprenticeship) and mode of learning (full-time or part-time; whole course or a course unit) that suits them. All learners should also be given access to a new ‘lifetime loan limit’ of £75,000.”
Reforms around lifelong learning and funding are already underway as part of the new skills bill. Proposals in the bill include a "flexible loan entitlement" which entitles all adults to four years of post-18 study from 2025, a “stimulation” of higher technical education (levels 4 and 5) in higher education, and more flexible and modular HE study.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “It was a manifesto commitment to drive up quality and standards, encourage educational excellence across higher education, and ensure a sustainable and flexible student finance system.
“As part of the Lifetime Skill Guarantee, we have also announced a Lifelong Loan Entitlement, which will provide individuals with a loan entitlement to the equivalent of four years of post-18 education, to use over their lifetime.
“As the education secretary set out in his recent speech at the HEPI conference, we are developing our plans to consult on further reforms to the higher education system and we will set this out in more detail in due course.”