Comprehensive reform of the way technical and professional qualifications are accredited and funded is needed to boost the country's productivity, according to a new report.
In a paper published yesterday, Scott Kelly - who served as policy adviser to former FE minister John Hayes between 2010 and 2012 - argues that too few people are studying for work-related qualifications at levels 4 and 5, and says proposed solutions have been too "vague".
According to the report, Raising Productivity by Improving Higher Technical Education, published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), the FE sector is "ideally placed" to play a more prominent role.
It argues that there should be a "well defined" set of institutions based around technical and professional qualifications; that all higher-level, work-related qualifications should be validated and funded by the same processes; and that public policy should acknowledge and address barriers to employer engagement. "In practice, this means comprehensive reform of the way technical and professional qualifications are accredited and funded," it says.
A new body should accredit and fund qualifications linked to specific job roles, the paper advises. It also argues that employers should have a formal role in the system.
Although established brands such as Higher Nationals should be maintained, higher education institutions, FE colleges and training providers should be given scope to design and deliver their own qualifications if they can demonstrate sufficient rigour and industry engagement, the report recommends.
It suggests encouraging people with recent industry experience into teaching by removing some of the qualification barriers to becoming a part-time teacher and by establishing a similar scheme to Teach First to support experienced technicians who want to change careers.
The annual CBIPearson Education and Skills survey published earlier this week (bit.lyCBIsurvey) reveals that 55 per cent of businesses fear they won't be able to find enough workers with the necessary higher-level skills over the coming year.
The government's new productivity plan, released last week, says colleges will be invited to specialise in individual disciplines and some could become "institutes of technology" to deliver high standards of provision at levels 3-5 (bit.lyProductivityPlan).
Hepi director Nick Hillman said the reforms would strengthen the role of FE and "make killing off the sector unthinkable".
"As a country, we are not producing the technical skills that employers need and, as a result, our productivity lags behind our key competitors," he added. "Yet public spending on further education, skills and vocational training is under severe threat.
"Implementing Dr Kelly's proposals would strengthen the vocational sector by embedding employers more deeply within it, improving the quality of qualifications and strengthening further education institutions."