Higher technical education (HTE) at Levels 4 and 5 (equivalent to the first two years of an UK honours degree) already plays a vital role in supplying the UK’s labour market with a highly skilled workforce, but it is an often an overlooked higher education option. Despite a decline in numbers since 2000, however, HTE is now looks set for a resurgence.
The economic case for studying [Higher Technical] qualifications is inarguable.
Gavin Williamson, September 2020
2017 and the current reforms
There is a driving force for change, exacerbated by the current pandemic, and an urgent demand from industry for a skilled labour force, and from individuals to upskill or reskill. Current government reforms of higher technical provision can help meet this demand.
The review, first announced in October 2017, proposes change to create a clearer, demand-led system and one that is attractive to learners, employers and providers alike. And this forms part of the government’s broader plans to support a post-COVID-19, post-Brexit economy. New measures include the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, giving “adults the chance to take free college courses valued by employers, supporting people to train into better jobs” and flexible loans allowing people to space out their higher education study, taking smaller, relevant, bite size modules of study, with the ability to transfer credits.
We cannot, alas, save every job. What we can do is give people the skills to find and create new and better jobs.
Boris Johnson, September 2020
The role of Higher Nationals
Pearson Higher National qualifications have a significant history of delivering higher level technical and professional skills, and have been developed to reflect the increasing need for high quality professional and technical pathways at Level 4 (Higher National Certificate - HNC) and Level 5 (Higher National Diploma - HND).
First offered in 1921, the qualifications are on the verge of turning 100 years old, and cover 24 sectors, including Engineering, Computing, Construction and Health and Science. Pearson Higher Nationals are designed and validated in collaboration with employers to ensure alignment with recognised professional standards. They are taught at universities, Further Education Colleges, training providers as part of a higher apprenticeship, and direct by employers.
Bridging the gap
In developing the post 18 education landscape it is important that a cohesive strategy is developed, which both allows learners to acquire the higher technical skills required by employers, and enables progression to higher level study. They prepare graduates for the world of work, but can also act as a rung on the ladder of learning towards more advanced education and training. This ultimately supports the up-skilling and re-skilling of the current workforce and a commitment to lifelong learning.
[A] pointless nonsensical gulf that’s been fixed for more than 100 years between the so-called academic and so-called practical side of education. Everything is ultimately a skill.
Boris Johnson, September 2020
In our view one of the most important aspects of addressing this divide is the visibility and profile of higher technical education as a valid choice for students of all ages. There needs to be a concerted effort to make learners aware of its value alongside other forms of higher education, and the economic and personal progression that Higher Technical Education can bring to the individual.
Pearson welcomes the renewed investment and focus on higher technical education, including Higher Nationals, to ensure that Higher Technical Education is at the vanguard of driving economic growth and supporting student employment and progression.
What it means for employers
As education and industry collaborate more, the responsibility for education and employers to collaborate to provide industry with graduates who add value to the modern workforce will grow. Indeed, the onus will be on learners to make the right career decisions to make themselves employable. This will involve developing the skills that industry desires, through qualifications that add value.
Even before the significant impact of the pandemic, re-skilling was one of the biggest issues facing the UK. Jobs are changing, and over the next ten years - almost every job will change. The CBI + McKinsey research into the scale of the skills gaps estimated that by 2030, over 30 million people – equivalent to 90% of the current workforce - would need to be reskilled. Adult learning is at the very heart of this challenge. And so, much of the recent Government proposals to reform post 16 education are to be welcomed.
The reform of Higher Technical Education (HTE) - supporting the acquisition of higher technical skills and learning through employer endorsed qualifications, with access to the main student finance system for their support - will better help employers and students identify and benefit from these career-focused higher education programmes.
The Lifetime Skills Guarantee will help people take free college courses, valued by employers, and support people to gain credentials at level 3 and above.
Also, a new entitlement to flexible loans to support smaller modules of learning will be ideal for those who need to reskill/upskill.
Together, these reforms can support employers, allowing access to a broader pool of well qualified and valued workforce, while also supporting them in helping their workforce commit to lifelong learning.