Westminster Higher Education Forum

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Higher Technical Education in England - reform, uptake and delivery, regulation and standards, and contribution to economic recovery

May 2021

Price: £95 PLUS VAT

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference focuses on the next steps for higher technical education in England, as new digital qualifications are developed for teaching to start in in 2022 - aimed at helping to help meet skills gaps in fields such as software development and engineering, and to be followed by qualifications in construction, health and science.

The conference takes place in the context of considerable reform in the policy landscape surrounding technical education in England.

This includes increased focus on improving the quality of provision to meet the skills needed by the UK economy, and the development of a new approval system guided by employers’ needs aimed at guaranteeing the quality of higher technical qualifications - backed by commitments in the recent Skills for Jobs White Paper, which also launched the National Skills Fund for supporting adults to retrain and drive take-up of higher technical qualifications, as well as the policy drive to harness technical and vocational education to support post-pandemic economic recovery.

Areas for discussion include:

  • delivery - priorities for improvement in higher technical education
  • standards - how they can be regulated and maintained for the new qualifications
  • uptake and engagement - how the profile of the qualifications can be raised amongst prospective students and best serve the needs of employers
  • contributing to employment and the economy - the focus for closing technical skills gaps and contributing to post-pandemic economic recovery

The conference will be an opportunity for stakeholders to consider the issues alongside key policy officials who are due to attend from DfE; Ofsted; BEIS; the DCMS; the DIT; the Geospatial Commission; the MOD; the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales; the Valuation Office Agency and the Welsh Government.

The agenda

  • The independent consultation on higher technical education - an overview of key findings
  • Higher technical education - the state of play and priorities for implementing the reformed qualifications
  • Improving the delivery of higher technical education - increasing take-up, improving the brand, funding and supporting providers, and addressing cold spots in provision
  • Regulation and maintaining standards for the new higher technical education qualifications
  • The international higher technical education landscape - what can be learned for developing the UK system
  • Closing the technical skills gaps and boosting the post-pandemic economy - key shortage areas, improving co-operation with employers, and providing high quality on-the-job experience
  • Approving qualifications and improving standards through the new quality mark - experience so far with the national approval scheme and next steps forward

Areas for discussion:

  • the key reforms - what will be needed from government, regulation, and stakeholders to achieve the strategic policy aims for improving the provision of higher technical education at levels 4 and 5:
    • quality - ensuring that higher technical qualifications meet employer needs, and the way forward for the design and use of the new government-backed quality mark scheme
    • standards - priorities for the Government’s work with Ofsted and the Office for Students in ensuring consistently high standards in the provision of higher technical courses
    • meeting employer needs - looking at the newly-approved higher technical qualifications in digital fields, health, sciences and construction, and further options going forward
    • marketing - strategies for raising the profile, awareness and understanding of higher technical education courses amongst prospective students and employers
  • implementation - how a joined-up system can be developed between technical education and industry that:
    • clearly communicates the value of individual HTQs
    • supports learner progression
    • earns the trust of employers
  • awareness and uptake - following concern over low levels of take-up of HTQs, assessing:
    • progress so far - following the announcement by the DfE of a public awareness campaign
    • next steps for improving the profile of higher technical education
  • international best practice - discussing how insights from HTE systems in other countries where take-up is higher inform ways to improve HTQs in this country
    • with a contribution from Dr Anthony Mann, Head, VET and Adult Learning Team, OECD
  • support and staffing - looking at funding and what further measures will be needed by HTE providers to provide the outcomes needed by students and employers, including qualified, trained staff
  • innovation in delivery - lessons that the sector can learn from provision of HTE during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how virtual or blended learning might be incorporated into future practice
  • regional variation - following concern over cold spots in HTE provision:
    • addressing geographical inequalities - looking at the current state of play, and strategies for addressing outstanding issues
    • the potential impact of policy measures - such as the announced eight new Institutes of Technology, aimed at improving accessibility across England to high quality vocational education
  • regulation - priorities for an effective regime that reflects the hands-on nature of HTE, and discussing progress following the return to inspections in remote format
  • employment - how to maximise the opportunities for HTE graduates:
    • to fill the skills gaps in the labour market - and to be able to enter high quality technical jobs that fill such gaps
    • in a challenging economic environment - particularly in the wake of the pandemic, and with increased unemployment
  • employer involvement:
    • how to strengthen collaboration and information sharing between employers and providers
    • including on-the-job experience that accurately reflects the practical skills needed by industry and individual employers
  • skills priorities - assessing:
    • how well HTE is being geared to serve key skill needs, both for economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic and for the longer term
    • implications for the range of courses and qualifications, and the geographic spread of provision into the future

A scan of relevant developments:

  • Major overhaul of higher technical education announced - a package of measures, including newly approved higher technical qualifications to be launched from September 2022, focused on:
    • ensuring quality in level 4 and 5 qualifications and their provision, and that they meet employer needs, with the introduction of new digital, health, science and construction qualifications
    • raising the profile of the courses and qualifications amongst prospective students and employers
  • the Lifetime Skills Guarantee - announced by the PM to help ensure the technical education system is providing the economy with the necessary skills, with 400 qualifications having been made available to take for free since April
  • the further education Skills for Jobs White Paper - for consultation this year, and including proposals on funding, accountability and DfE intervention when a college is failing
  • Universities Minister calls for true social mobility - setting out the policy aim of putting the needs of students and their career ambitions first, irrespective of whether they take a HE or FE path
  • Competition opens for new wave of Institutes of Technology - eight new institutes to be created in areas without an IoT, in the South East, East of England, Midlands, and the North West
  • future skills gaps in manufacturing and engineering - appointment by the DfE of High Value Manufacturing Catapult to work alongside Institutes of Technology to develop training and upskilling in areas such as AI and robotics, additive manufacturing, and composite materials, with the pilot of the project running from March to December 2021, and with a potential national rollout to follow
  • supporting youth employment and upskilling the workforce - policy in the wake of the economic impact of the pandemic, including:
    • the Plan for Jobs and the follow-up Job Support Scheme
    • the £2bn Kickstart Scheme - providing work placements for 16-24 year olds on Universal Credit as well as £111m worth of funding for traineeships
  • wider policy - including the Industrial Strategy and the UK Digital Strategy

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from BEIS; the DCMS; the Department for Education; the Department for International Trade; the Geospatial Commission; the Ministry of Defence; the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales; Ofsted; the Valuation Office Agency and the Welsh Government.

Overall, we expect further speakers and other delegates to be an informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government officials from the Cabinet Office; Department of Education, Department for Work and Pensions; Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and other relevant Departments, as well as business associations; charities and community groups; employers and industry representatives; Institutes of Technology; employment lawyers; local authorities; universities; trade associations and chartered bodies; trade unions; think tanks; academics, and reporters from the national and specialist media.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

This pack includes

  • Dropbox video recording of the conference
  • PDF transcript of the discussion, including all speaker remarks and Q&A
  • PDFs of speakers' slide material (subject to permission)
  • PDFs of the delegate pack, including speaker biographies and attendee list
  • PDFs of delegate articles