Leader of your gang? Then why not take a qualification in social network management, says David Collins
A leaked government report reveals a widespread scheme to accredit a variety of life experiences, acquired both at home and in the workplace, as an alternative to studying at a college.
Talks are apparently at an advanced stage for a foundation degree top-up run by a pizza chain and a combined sandwich-making and shelf-stacking programme at levels 4 (degree equivalent) to be offered by a leading supermarket.
The biggest changes, however, will be allowing individuals to accredit their own personal life experiences outside the workplace.
As a spokesman for the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills explained: "It has long been recognised that people of all ages gain skills as they go through life. Why shouldn't they have the same chance of having them accredited as those who spend three years at university?
"This government initiative brings together the idea of self-assessment and self-regulation with personal choice, and offers all individuals the opportunity to accredit themselves up to level 3 (A-level equivalent) in a number of areas."
The first targets are those disengaged teenagers who spend most of their time playing on computers.
"This is a real qualification opportunity for many," the spokesman said. "To reach competence in Microsoft Flight Simulator is a major achievement and although some additional work may be necessary to captain a Boeing 777, it should more be than adequate to fly a small commercial plane - at least as a junior officer."
Interest has also been shown by the armed forces, where the ability to fight your way through Call of Duty 4 is seen to be an ideal and cost- effective preliminary training and could lead to fast-tracking to sergeant or equivalent for recruits.
The Neet (not in education, employment or training) group of young people has not been forgotten, with a level 4 qualification in social network management, the prize for those who rise to the top of their gang.
Given the problems with poor trading records in the futures stock markets from so-called high-fliers, several city institutions are starting to consider how they can accredit the skills developed in dealing on the streets and use them on the market floor.
One bank official said: "To be able to help solve a social problem and make money these days is the golden scenario. This ticks all the boxes."
But it is not all plain sailing. The problem of transferability of skills has already reared its ugly head, with cafes insisting that hamburger restaurant employees, with their preponderance of fizzy drinks experience, take a hot drinks conversion module before they can operate their coffee machines.
There are bound to be teething problems, but the goal of seeing Britain top of the qualifications league table is worth striving for.
Most controversial is the prospect of consumers obtaining credits. The spokesman explained: "Many teenagers develop extensive product knowledge during the course of regular visits to fast-food outlets and we owe it to them to see that this is recognised.
"The thought of receiving qualification credits while you eat will appeal to many teenagers, as will the ability to receive key skill accreditation for mobile texting and Facebook internet entries."
Pilot studies show this option to be very popular with young people, although some have been caught eating for others and more middle-class parents than average have been seen in fast-food outlets. Overall, however, there has been no more abuse of the system than with GCSE coursework.
Although initially cynical, universities now respond enthusiastically to these developments. An admissions tutor said: "Why should we want to admit students with limited academic skills when we can have someone who smiles when we meet them, hopes we have a nice day and will include us among their friends on their social networking site?"
David Collins is principal of South Cheshire College in Crewe and president of the Association of Colleges.