Last week I reported on growth sectors, skills gaps, the future shape of Further and Higher Education (FE and HE), the impact of Health and Safety cuts and Assisted Area Status for Devon. This week we look at the European Social Fund (ESF) programme to 2020, the implications of Vince Cable’s recent lecture on the future of HE, and the HE fundraising workforce.

A consultation on the contents of the draft ESF Operational Programme for England 2014 to 2020 (part of the 2014 to 2020 European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme in England) has been launched to ensure partners have the opportunity to comment on the main document, setting out the strategy and priorities for the use of funds in support of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. EPALE, the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe, is a new initiative funded by the European Commission and the latest development in the EU’s long-term commitment to promoting high quality adult learning in Europe.

Vince Cable recently delivered a public policy lecture on the future for HE and FE institutions, teachers and students, saying “high-level vocational training has fallen through the gap between our FE and HE systems and we are way behind where we need to be”.

A glance at the Government’s recent Industrial Strategy Report, where sector after sector highlights the lack of skilled workers as a barrier to progress shows just how far behind we may be. Vince Cable puts forward six propositions aimed at developing the higher-level technician route through a stronger FE-HE interface:

  1. The creation of a tier of specialised skills training centres, National Colleges. The Government has been edging towards this model for some time as its announcement of a dedicated engineering college for HS2 indicated and others are in the pipeline. Current developments may well have people dusting off their Centre of Vocational Excellence (CoVE) plans but these are employer led and match funded so more akin to National Skills Academies. A planning Paper is to be published shortly
  2. Supporting higher apprenticeships. The Government has already put £40m behind this (over 2 years). Vince Cable stressed two further points;
    • this could be a big opportunity for HE to extend its reach and
    • routing apprenticeship funding through employers would make it easier for them to purchase more appropriate higher-level training.
  3. Enabling colleges to sanction their own qualifications.
  4. Considering whether FE students should be eligible for maintenance loans and grants. This came as NIACE called for ongoing impact assessment of Further Education loans, pointing out that the latest Government figures show that, 12 months on from the introduction of 24+ advanced learning loans, almost 65,000 loan applications have been received, against an initial estimate of 85,000.
  5. FE/HE progression and back to the quest for seamless progression. Local Enterprise Partnerships may be key brokers here.
  6. Parity of esteem. The Department for Education (DfE) is proposing a common information portal for 16 year olds and Vince Cable believes something similar should be developed for older applicants whether they’re applying for university or a higher apprenticeship.

NIACE is optimistic that the new HEFCE report will lead to concerted action to address the dramatic decline in part-time HE. Nick Davy, HE Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC), commented: “This report is another useful addition to our understanding of this market”, going on to say that: “We would ask HEFCE to continue to maintain its research interest in this area …so that we can develop a full understanding of part-time HE and develop sensible evidenced based policies.”

Association of Colleges’ Deputy Director Gill Clipson welcomed the announcement, stating that: “Colleges are at the heart of higher level skills training. Therefore we understand the reasoning behind the call for a new generation of national colleges, based on the existing FE model, to meet the skills needs in specific areas, particularly the emerging economies including digital and nuclear”.

The HE fundraising workforce must at least double, if not triple, by 2022 to unlock fundraising potential, according to a new report and toolkit from HEFCE, which sets out practical steps to enable this to happen. HEFCE has also recently launched a call to gather views and evidence relating to the use of metrics in research assessment and management.

One of our readers, Jackie Longworth of Fair Play South West, has been beavering away in support of the Women’s Equality Network, which now has its own website, including a recently published article “Economic Equality – Manifesto Background Papers”, with a range of resources for women in the workplace and details of the upcoming event launching the manifesto on the 6th of June here at the innovation centre (book now to avoid disappointment!).

…and finally, on May 1, the Vice-Chancellor here at Exeter and Dr Judy Genshaft of the University of South Florida (USF) took to the floor in an interactive and engaging discussion session at Going Global, the world’s foremost education conference.