AELP responds to Professor Alison Wolf’s latest report on the FE and skills sector
Immediately following the AELP National Conference, Professor (Baroness) Alison Wolf of Kings College London published a report called Heading for the Precipice on the future of the FE and skills sector in the face of the major funding challenges
Filled with data, it is a wide-ranging report covering apprenticeships, real terms funding, the value of work based learning, sub-contracting and other issues. Professor Wolf observes, “Vocational institutions which are genuinely close to employers and the workplace are needed”.
On the issue of reduced funding, the Professor says that policymakers and stakeholders should be looking at the whole of post-19 education budget, including Higher Education, rather than focus on how the FE and skills budget is allocated. She questions whether all of the current HE budget is generating a good return on investment.
Professor Wolf comments:
“The current situation is financially unsustainable. It is deeply inegalitarian in its allocation of resources. It is also inefficient and bad for the ‘human capital development’, which increasingly drives and justifies education policy. In post-19 education, we are producing vanishingly small numbers of higher technician level qualifications, while massively increasing the output of generalist bachelors degrees and low-level vocational qualifications. We are doing so because of the financial incentives and administrative structures that governments themselves have created, not because of labour market demand, and the imbalance looks set to worsen yet further. We therefore need, as a matter of urgency, to start thinking about post-19 funding and provision in a far more integrated way.”
In response to the report, AELP CEO Stewart Segal said:
“The skills minister and the SFA’s chief executive said at the AELP conference that the productivity agenda, economic imperatives and programmes which produced the best return on government investment would shape future funding for the sector. And as Martin Dunford, our chairman, emphasised in his speech, whatever your political views, the new majority government provides some continuity with a mandate that was clearly set out in its manifesto. Higher level technical skills and apprenticeships offer both independent providers and colleges the opportunity to respond to the government’s agenda and the latest official SFR data shows a clear increase in starts on advanced and higher level apprenticeships.
“We also agree with Professor Wolf’s observation that providers should be ‘genuinely close to employers and the workplace’. And it was right that the professor tilted the debate towards comparing FE and HE spends, rather than one that just looks at apprenticeships against other FE provision. Adult apprenticeships will still only account for 20% of the SFA’s total budget next year and we agree with the minister that we have to focus more resources on the traineeship programme and encourage more providers to deliver it. As Professor Wolf says, the focus should be on whether the whole of the post-16 education and skills budget, including HE, is meeting the priorities of the government.
“Providers have already been facing tough challenges in terms of delivering more for less. After the current set of reforms, we will need a period of stability in terms of policy and programme initiatives to drive an overall increase in higher skills.”