Reform needed to transform UK's technical education system, says Vice-Chancellor

Issue date: 08 July 2016


Engineering student

The technical education system in the UK is disjointed and in need of an overhaul, says the Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

Professor Steve West has called for action to be taken to reform the Government's existing approach, which he describes as 'over-complex' and failing to create opportunities for young people.

Backing conclusions reached in a report released today by the Independent Panel on Technical Education, he said the system did not support the development of skills our economy needs.

Professor West, who served as a member of the expert panel, believes one of its biggest flaws is the 'false divide' between academic and technical/professional education pathways.

Writing in his Vice-Chancellor's Blog, Professor West said: “Whilst both routes are different and need to have clear progression pathways, movement between the two needs to be available and absolutely clear to learners. It is not right to cut off movement to university undergraduate study to those on technical pathways, just as it is not right to cut off direct movement into skilled employment for those taking A-levels.

“The report therefore recommends that the Government incentivises the development of short, flexible bridging provision to enable individuals to move, in either direction, between the academic and technical education options and to support adults returning to study.

“Without this, we are putting in additional barriers to the success of individuals and to our broader economy. We cannot afford for this to happen. There are multiple pathways to higher level skills. Each need to be celebrated and the whole system needs to work together as holistic offer.”

Skills Minister Nick Boles announced plans to reform technical and professional education with clearer progression routes from school to high-level qualifications in November 2015.

An independent expert panel created to oversee the reforms included former minister of science and innovation Lord Sainsbury, as well as Professor Alison Wolf, Blackpool and the Fylde College principal Bev Robinson, and Simon Blagden, non-executive chairman of Fujitsu UK.

Professor West said the problems currently hampering the technical education system were contributing to a productivity gap which was 'holding the UK back'.

He said: “We know that, 'by 2020, the UK is predicted to rank just 28th of 33 OECD countries in terms of developing intermediate skills. Furthermore, the size of the post-secondary technical education sector in England is extremely small by international standards'. This is very worrying.”

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