I tend to see opportunity in everything around me, so when the Prime Minister, Theresa May, launched her new Industrial Strategy, I was buoyed by the inclusion of Institutes of Technology.
First placed on the Government agenda in 2015, the concept is simple. Places which – through high quality provision – develop that specialist status which signals they are capable of delivering the highest standard, and levels, in particular curriculum areas.
Hardly a revolutionary concept and one which I’m sure many FE colleges are already aspiring to. However, the inclusion of this in the Prime Minister’s Industrial Strategy does signal a commitment to what we do. It shows a level of belief from Government that what we can deliver, is what the UK needs in order to develop our productivity, our workforce and our economy.
So what does this reaffirmed commitment to technical and vocational education mean? Well, unfortunately the announcement doesn’t mean that FE providers will all instantly be considered Institutes of Technology. And the capital funding pot to help develop them - £170 million – is never going to change anything significant, as frankly, it’s little more than a drop in the ocean. But what it does mean is opportunities are being created which can allow our sector to flourish. What it does mean, is that Government recognises that FE can help deliver economic prosperity in the UK. What it does mean, is that the academic snobbery of the past, when the traditional HE route was considered the premium product, is no longer the case.
This new pledge to technical, vocational training is not the spark that will set light to any kind of revolution in this type of learning. What it is though, is the catalyst which can help our sector develop a strong reputation for delivering great careers in an age where a University degree is diminishing in influence in a tough jobs market, and where employers are finding graduates ill equipped to move straight into the workplace.
|Developing vocational skills is great for students, employers and the wider community|
As Principal of two large FE colleges, our teams have already been examining how we can best deliver for our local, regional and national skills priorities. We’ve analysed the skills needs of business, and our Local Enterprise Partnership, and we are already working towards building strong partnerships with local employers. It’s these relationships which we need to see the whole FE sector continuing to build as we move forward, because it is this work which will ensure we are able to deliver relentlessly for our students, our businesses, our Government and our communities. And it is these relationships that will ensure the FE sector is taken seriously in the future. So long live the Institutes of Technology, and the grand opportunity they represent.