Priorities and Policies for HE-David Harbourne

UVAC 2014

David Harbourne, Director of Policy and Research, Edge Foundation

We shall not survive in this world if we in Britain alone down-grade the non-university professional and technical sector. No other country in the western world does so… Let us now move away from our snobbish caste-ridden hierarchical obsession with university status.

Anthony Crosland, April 1965

David emphasised that the quote, whilst 50 years old, is still as relevant today, we haven’t found a model that is equal.

In 2012 participation in higher education reached 49.5%, however growth in HE has been uneven. Humanities and business have increased by 70%+ in the last 10 years.

Degrees no longer guarantee good jobs, for example 30 months after graduation 35% of students from the Creative Arts and Law degrees were in non-graduate jobs. Interestingly approximately 15% studying engineering were not in graduate jobs. Overall there has been an increase of 5% since 2001 in non-graduate jobs (December 2011).

Greg Clark, Higher Education Minister believes there is no problem with the expansion of students going to University and we shouldn’t be excluding people.

Vince Cable has a different view and earlier this year outlined the need for a twin track approach whereby FE and the sub-degree routes get equal status. This is particularly important for HNC’s, HND’s, Higher Apprenticeships and Foundation Degrees. Vince’s vision is to have a series of National Colleges in key sectors such as rail, engineering and IT.

David believes this is a nice idea but underdeveloped and lacking detail on implementation. Similarly Liam Byrne’s idea of technical degrees part funded by government and a ‘earn while you learn’ proposal lacks details and sounds very similar to Higher Apprenticeships.

UKCES view is that FE colleges need to fill the gap to leverage higher level technical education. The OECD report (November 2014) reviewed technical and vocational degrees across 39 countries and the UK has approximately 10% studying technical/vocational degrees, by comparison Canada and Ireland has 33% and 30% respectively (Yay).

The call to action from David was that the politicians need to move beyond the rhetoric and look at long term plans for changing the nature of technical and vocational degrees in the UK.

In summary

The people in the room know much of what David shared with us, however the constant politicisation of higher-level learning means that there is no consistency and long-term strategy. There are too many changes which confuses employers , potential learners and parents.

David finished by adding that the tipping point will be when middle class parents realise that a traditional university route is not delivering and will start voting with their feet.

Scotland is more advanced than England in how it approaches skills and whilst not perfect they are much more committed to a longer term strategy.

An interesting first session but no definitive answers on how we make the shift.