The HE sector did not have a lead body or occupational standards council which was well placed to become an NTO. Instead THETO is an offshoot of the Universities and Colleges Staff Development Agency, which was set up nine years ago by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals to provide consultancy services to HE institutions.
THETO director Bob Hardwick said the body was looking at the training needs of all HE staff, including lecturers and support staff. As well as encouraging more universities to become Investors In People (so far fewer than 10 have gained the standard), The organisation is carrying out a 15-month project to look at skill and qualification needs in the sector.
THETO is also working with the Institute of Learning and Teaching, set up following the Dearing review of higher education, on an accreditation project for university lecturers. "Many people who come into HE are fairly well-qualified, but the picture is quite patchy," said Mr Hardwick.
In further education, where qualifications held by teachers and support staff are even more varied, the Further Education National Training Organisation will hear imminently whether it has been granted NTO status within the next two months. Its proposal went before Gordon Beaumont's recognition panel in early July.
FENTO's application was made by the FE Staff Development Forum, chaired by Terry Melia, which is close to completing the first set of standards for FE lecturers. As well as looking at the training needs of staff and governors in colleges, FENTO will collect labour market information to help colleges with manpower planning.
Mr Melia said one of the first priorities would be to look at the needs of FE's extensive and largely unqualified part-time teaching force. FENTO would also be undertaking joint projects with THETO. "It will be a major step forward for both further and higher education," he added.
Schools will almost certainly be the last education sector with an NTO. Although the Teacher Training Agency has begun drawing up standards for teachers to widen the scope of teacher training qualifications, no bid for NTO status is in the pipeline.
Mr Beaumont said he was delighted higher education recognised the need for NTOs at the same time as professional bodies were becoming more keen on higher level vocational qualifications. The existence of THETO, he said, should help universities to escape from their "ivory tower".
Andy Powell, chief executive of the NTO national council, said it would be a major breakthrough if schoolteachers and FE lecturers were required to demonstrate competencies in the same way as other employees. "It's what the workplace is all about," he added.