Corsham Institute calls for lifetime allowance grants rather than loans to make lifelong learning more accessible to all.

  • We urge cohesive collaboration between government, education and industry to deliver radical action over the technology skills shortage.

  • We believe graduates need industry experience as well as access to the latest learning and technology.

  • We recognise increased and sustained investment needs to be made into careers information and guidance for all ages as ‘careers for life’ diminish.

 

The long-awaited Augar Review, a review of post-18 education and funding was published on May 30th.

The report highlights discrepancies in experiences and outcomes of those attending university and those who take alternative education and training pathways. It states this disparity needs to be addressed for “fairness and equity” but also to enhance our economy. 

Higher education alternatives, such as apprenticeships, provide a range of economic benefits including improving the skills, income and career progression of individuals, a reduction in unemployment benefit payments, and increasing the productivity of businesses. Our higher education is recognised across the world, however, many other countries outperform us with alternative post-18 offerings, so we welcome the review’s focus on this area.

At Corsham Institute we agree that post-18 education needs to be innovative and flexible. We work to ensure that the modern workforce have the opportunity and ability to respond to change and continue to develop skills throughout their lives. We support the following key points from the review: 

Focus on lifelong learning and flexible opportunities to access training and funding later in life

We recognise that the world of work is changing rapidly and the demand for digital skills far outstrips supply.

We are moving away from the idea of a career for life. People are now building career portfolios which involve greater movement between roles, sectors and industries than ever before. The notion of one long period of education to prepare you for a linear career has become outdated. To address this change, we need to ensure that opportunities to upskill and reskill are easier to access, and to allow education and training to be interspersed between periods of work. Considering that life expectancy is increasing and primary school children are being educated for jobs that do not yet exist; it is unreasonable to think that one long period of education, most commonly to the age of 21, will serve as adequate preparation for the preceding 50 years. 

The Augar Review suggests introducing a flexible lifetime loan allowance to enable people to spread their education and training across their lifetime, rather than focusing their learning early within their career journey. Although this could mean more people choosing to learn later in life and may encourage young people to think about their higher education in terms of a lifetime of employment, this is not a certainty. Along with the loan itself, people need to be provided with advice and guidance on how they can benefit from this scheme. Those with financial or caring responsibilities may not be comfortable taking out a loan later in life. We believe making the lifetime allowance available in the form of grants rather than loans, where appropriate, may make lifelong learning more accessible to everyone.  Further to this, reintroducing maintenance grants for students from low income households would help disadvantaged students access post-18 education opportunities.

Increase in the provision of education and training which is aligned with the economy’s needs

There are long standing skills shortages in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and skilled trades. Attempts have been made to address these shortages through University Technical Colleges (UTC’s) however these were not been successful in producing enough skilled workers to meet the demand. The introduction of T-Levels is the next step. The technology industry is creating jobs faster than the workforce/economy can fill them, yet only a small minority of Level 4 and 5 learners are training in the STEM-related technical areas. A Department for Education review of the level 4 and 5 qualification and provider market shows, for example, only 12% of level 4 and 5 programmes were taken in engineering and manufacturing technologies. This skills shortage can only be addressed with radical action. 

The Government recently announced 12 Institutes of Technology, which are collaborations between higher education (HE) and further education (FE) providers and local employers, designed to increase technical skills provision in STEM based subjects. We believe this is a great first step and advocate for lifelong learning loans being used to access this training. However, due to geographical restrictions, many will not benefit from these. Ultimately, we will need a broader solution which includes all FE and HE as well as local employers. 

The review states work needs to be done to better understand the barriers that SMEs face in engaging with the apprenticeship system and put in place mechanisms to address these, including raising awareness of the programme and making the system easier to navigate. Our work with Harvey Nash and the Future Skills Partnership aims to address some of these issues. We have worked with local employers to identify the largest skills gaps in the South West region. Findings showed that employers feel the skills shortage most acutely when seeking software engineers and data analysts. As a result, our partnership with Harvey Nash enables us to offer level 4 apprenticeships in both of these areas. We are working with employers to use their apprenticeship levy to retrain existing staff and to recruit new Software Developers and Data Analysts from more diverse talent pools.

Focus on increasing the link between employers, training and education

The review committee found many young people are still not fully informed about the range of post-18 options available to them. The more careers activities and employer encounters young people have during their time at school, the more able they are to make informed decisions about what is right for them. Similarly, at universities there are opportunities to increase links with employers. 

The Augar Review cites the example of the RISE scheme which is run in partnership with Sheffield City Council and other partners across Sheffield, including Sheffield Hallam University. It introduces graduates to the region’s businesses through a 6-month paid placement with an employer in the region - industry experience and employment for students as well as access to the latest learning and technology. Schemes like this would be beneficial across the UK. 

Other ways collaboration in this area would be beneficial is specifically to target skills gaps - a scheme where employers work with their local FE/HE providers to address their skills gaps. Many successful institutions are also already key contributors to local economies in various parts of England, possessing wide reaching employer relationships and working to meet local skills needs. 

Sadly, the National Careers Service, which provides advice to adults, is set to have its budget reduced at a time when the importance of the service is increasing. More adults will be changing careers multiple times throughout their lifetime and advice and guidance will be key to making sure they know what opportunities available and what pathways are right for them.If the lifelong learning loan is going to be used by people in the most meaningful way people need to be empowered to make informed choices, this will help ensure the scheme is working for individuals and the economy in the most beneficial way

It remains to be seen how these recommendations will be acted upon during this volatile period in Parliament. However, for the recommendations proposed in the Augar Report to be rolled out successfully, we believe that research, test and user feedback approaches will be crucial in making these recommendations successful in practice. This will involve a cohesive collaboration between Government, education and industry across the nation, which we strongly support.