Vince Cable will tonight set out a vision for a new generation of specialist colleges to fill the high-level vocational skills gap.
The business secretary is due to give the Cambridge Public Policy Lecture, during which he will set out how the further and higher education sectors can be brought closer together to achieve “parity of esteem”.
In the speech, he will say: “I want to set out a vision for a new generation of national colleges; specialised institutions, acting as national centres of expertise in key areas of the economy. They will be employer-focused, and combine academic knowledge with practical application.”
The government has already announced funding for three such institutions: the specialist college for the controversial High Speed 2 rail project; the engineering training facility at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry and the 'nuclear college' to train people to build and decommission reactors.
Mr Cable (pictured) will also call for greater take-up of existing high-level vocational training, such as higher apprenticeships, which he will say should be considered the norm rather than a “niche” in the skills programme.
“Higher apprenticeships are an important solution to the sub-degree gap, and there are already some superb schemes, for which entry is as competitive as getting into Cambridge.
“This kind of programme, including a sponsored degree, has huge advantages both for employers, who gain staff with theoretical as well as practical knowledge tailored to their specific needs, and for individuals, who gain a career-focused degree, earn good money while they study and graduate free without student loans.”
Furthermore, he will highlight that he has called on the university clearing service Ucas to examine the scope for integrating higher-level apprenticeships into their services.
He will say: “If we are to have credible, high-level vocational programmes, which are a legitimate and equally prestigious alternative to the traditional undergraduate route, older school leavers should be able to consider them alongside university options.”