Wide-ranging white paper promises new script for FE

6th November 2009 at 00:00
Proposals are ministers' long-awaited response to skills deficit identified in Leitch report

More level 3 apprenticeships, prioritisation of learners aged 18 to 25, students as customers and the prospect of less regulation for colleges are set to be the key themes in the forthcoming skills white paper.

Due for publication next week, the document will focus on level 3 apprenticeships, technical skills and associate professional qualifications. It aims to tackle the skills deficit dubbed the UK's "Achilles' heel" by Lord Leitch in his 2006 report.

FE Focus understands that the public funding priority will be to deliver skills and training to the 18-25 age group. Given the current squeeze on public funding, this is likely to mean that resources are moved from elsewhere in further education, possibly level 2.

Adults aged over 25 may be expected to pay more of the cost of their education, according to sources in the sector. Employers, too, may be asked to contribute more towards training.

But for other learners, early drafts of the white paper proposed a form of personal learning account not unlike the independent learning accounts that collapsed in 2001 amid evidence of fraud.

It is also likely to pick up on the theme of students as customers put forward by Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary Lord Mandelson this week in relation to universities. It is thought that it will suggest lighter-touch regulation for colleges and providers if they make themselves more responsive and accountable to students and employers.

The white paper is expected to adopt some of the core recommendations in last week's report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

It called for a food labelling-style approach to recruitment and FE quality, allowing students to choose courses and providers based on data about the quality and standard of provision.

The UKCES suggested that this would allow savings to be made by reducing the number of central bodies and quangos responsible for quality control and improvement.

It is understood that the paper may also propose reducing the number of sector skills councils (SSCs) from the current 25. Sources have suggested that the Government may be considering having fewer than 10 super SSCs.

Low-carbon and information technologies are almost certain to be given prominence as part of the Government's policy on industrial activism. SSCs may be reformed to match its industrial and training priorities.

The white paper is expected to confirm the central role of regional development agencies (RDAs) in establishing skills strategies. Lord Mandelson announced in the summer that RDAs would develop regional strategies that would be binding on the new Skills Funding Agency (SFA). It has since emerged that local authorities will have sign-off on these strategies.

But it is unclear how the document envisages the central training strategies set out by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. This will include those focusing on low-carbon technologies, working alongside regional skills strategies and the inputs from local authorities and the new SFA.

This week's higher education strategy paper from the Government, Higher Ambitions: The future of universities in a knowledge economy, calls for more part-time, work-based and foundation degrees, and for routes from apprenticeships through to vocational programmes.

"This requires a major change in the culture of our higher education system where the focus of expansion has hitherto been in three-year, full- time degree courses," it says.

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