These are the reforms needed to deliver meaningful growth in apprenticeships

Head and shoulders shot of Ian Dunn who is wearing a suit, shirt and tie

Ian Dunn, Coventry University Group's Provost

University news / Apprenticeships

Monday 08 July 2024

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Coventry University Group Provost, Ian Dunn, and Chief Executive of North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College, Marion Plant OBE FGCI, share their thoughts on the steps Sir Keir Starmer should take if his new Labour government really wants to deliver more apprenticeships.

Higher education (HE) and further education (FE) partnerships are educational anchors for regional communities, driving regeneration and boosting economic growth. They bridge the gap between education and work, act as a symbol of transformation and are beacons of opportunity for many young and older learners for whom school may not have been easy. The Labour government must now find a way to deliver more and grow impact.

To enable this, we would support the bringing together of Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs) and apprenticeships under the umbrella of skills funding. This would streamline resources, enhance workforce readiness and liberate some interesting new forms of economic development.

Skill shortages

By unifying funding, the profile of HTQs, which have the potential to become a whole new qualification framework, delivered in shorter bursts and designed to stack as job roles evolve and learners are afforded a different pathway to acquire specialised skills and qualifications. It makes sense from an employer perspective as well. Both HTQs and apprenticeships are designed to address skills shortages and meet the specific need of an employer. By integrating their funding, we can better align training programmes with industry requirements and simplify access to them.

Running parallel to the funding umbrella needs to be a national skills strategy which would help to enhance economic growth, social mobility and inclusion. A central strategy would help to instil a focus on improving and utilising skills while helping achieve a more sustainable and skilled workforce.

It would also go a long way towards simplifying the skills delivery system. By introducing guidance and structure we will limit the number of reforms, promote international benchmarking and establish greater trust in the delivery infrastructure. Whilst recognising the need for an external validation regime, Ofsted remains entirely ill-equipped to assess the impact of this qualifications on the world of work.

This is not reinventing the wheel. Initiatives like the Skills for Jobs White Paper and the Skills for Sustainable Growth strategy are already out there and outline key steps to ensure everyone, regardless of background or location, can gain the necessary skills for career progression. These strategies emphasise lifelong learning and address the evolving needs of employers and learners. But they are just the start and we need more. So much more.

Merging higher and further education

We believe that a new national tertiary education system should see HE and FE merge, creating MAT-like structures including universities, FE colleges and potentially even schools. Enabling and encouraging greater integration of higher and further education institutions could be seen as the bi-product of unified funding and a national skills strategy.
This will give employers one-stop access to skills solutions from entry to Level 8 and provide individuals with higher level skills development by removing institutional barriers, onerous applications and interview processes.

As a university group, we are actively promoting the integration of HE and FE through various initiatives and approaches. From flexible pathways to bespoke schemes to promote collaboration with schools in the Phoenix Partnership Scheme, Coventry University Group is constantly looking to deliver a broader, more agile and more efficient approach to delivery for skills development.

Our application to merge the North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College (NWSLC) and Coventry University Group is just the first step in our commitment to this future. We now need a little courage from politicians and their officials to enable this. This move will allow Better Futures Apprenticeships and NWSLC to offer a ladder opportunity from Level 2 through to Level 7.

One-stop shop

By acting as a ‘one-stop shop’ for employers to address skills gaps at all levels within their organisations, it will address the challenges they often experience when working with multiple partners. As a leader in the promotion of skills from level 1 onwards, the combination between the university group and NWSLC is truly compelling.

As one of the largest providers of degree apprenticeships in the UK, Coventry University Group is committed to delivering in this space and works with over 1,300 employers nationwide. Whether it is delivering courses in collaboration with regional partners, widening access and participation or providing continued professional development, we are invested in developing the communities around us.

What is certain, however, is that the new Labour government be brave in their approach. This starts with funding and bringing HTQs and apprenticeship finances together, but success will also require strategic and agile thinking as well as the collaboration of higher and further education institutions.