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From the Queen’s Speech to the next election: what now for the government’s agenda?
From the Queen’s Speech to the next election: what now for the Government’s agenda?

Posts Tagged ‘education’

A lifelong commitment? What to expect from the Lifetime Skills Guarantee

Skills are a key part of the government’s agenda, seen as vital for unlocking its ‘Levelling Up’ commitments in the light of skills shortages in areas like engineering, IT, and accounting. These shortages are long-standing. A 2018 study by the Open University found that skills shortages were costing UK companies £6.3 billion a year due to factors such as training and additional recruitment costs.

The government has acknowledged these shortages, and the need to ensure the education and training system is able to cope with the ever-increasing demands placed on it. In a foreword to the January 2021 White Paper on skills, the then Education Secretary Gavin Williamson indicated that more opportunities for training needed to be made available. As part of its response, the government has introduced a new policy – the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. It hopes that this initiative will address changing skills needs and employment patterns by giving people the opportunity to train and retrain throughout their lives.

What is it?

The Prime Minister announced the Lifetime Skills Guarantee in a September 2020 speech. The scheme covers a lot of ground policy ground. Pledges include increasing investment in FE colleges, introducing a lifelong loan entitlement, and a new funding system for higher technical courses. Only two policies, however, are being funded by the National Skills Fund: a new Level 3 qualification offer for adults and the extension of digital skills bootcamps.

The qualification offer, which commenced in April 2021, aims to give all adults without a Level 3 qualification (equivalent to A level) access to a fully-funded course. Previously, only adults under the age of 24 could access funding. The courses are taught by a range of state and private providers.

The government maintains a list of eligible courses, with 379 currently listed, and has made digital, engineering, health, and construction qualifications a clear priority with 37, 51, 54, and 66 courses available respectively. Whilst course lists are subject to review, investors in training providers that deliver these courses are likely to be particular beneficiaries of the scheme.

A high priority, and a long-term solution for a long-term problem

The Lifetime Skills Guarantee tackles big challenges, and the government has devoted significant effort to implementing it. The Guarantee was referenced multiple times in last month’s Budget, which also included a wider commitment to increase spending on skills by £3.8 billion by 2024/25 – a cash increase of 42% compared to 2019/20. These are not small pledges. The government has expended serious political capital on addressing the problem of skills shortages and, given this emphasis, is likely to release further funds in future years to support the scheme.

Announcing the Guarantee, the Prime Minister also made clear that the initiative is intended as a long-term scheme, rather than a short-term remedy to fill immediate skills gaps – that the nature of learning demands time and resources. He suggested that other countries have had an advantage over the UK when it comes to skills and technical education “for 100 years”. Indeed, the government’s Skills and Post-16 Education Bill confirmed that the planned rollout of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, another major Guarantee commitment and one that aims to make it just as easy to secure loans for higher technical qualifications as for full-time degrees, remains over three years away in 2025.

Considering the CBI’s October 2020 analysis that predicted around 90% of employees would need to reskill by 2030, if the government is serious about this issue– and all indications suggest it is – then funding for initiatives like the Level 3 offer is likely to be enduring. The fact that only £375 million from the £2.5 billion National Skills Fund has been allocated for 2021/22 reinforces this. There are an estimated 11 million people who would be able to access the free qualifications under the Level 3 offer. Given the political weight the government has placed on these Level 3 offers – literally labelling them a ‘Lifetime Guarantee’ – the £95 million that is currently funding courses over 2021/22 is very likely to represent a prelude to further funding in the future.

The outlook for investors

The Lifetime Skills Guarantee is a key piece of the government’s education agenda. Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been personally involved in its roll-out and have alluded to long-term planning happening in this space. This suggests that scheme will benefit from ongoing investment, particularly in sectors which government has identified as priorities. Technicians, engineers and social care professionals are consistently namechecked by ministers as occupations that the country lacks, and current course lists reflect this. Providers with speciality in these areas look set to benefit from the increased demand that funding from the scheme is likely to stimulate. As a result, investors in the technical education sector will want to monitor the government’s developing thinking closely in order to identify potential opportunities from future funding allocations for the scheme.

 

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Webinar – In conversation with the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP

On Tuesday 18h November 2020, WA Communications Director, Lisa Townsend, sat down with the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP to discuss her Early Years Healthy Development Review, the first phase of which will report to the government in January.

The first 1,000 days of children’s lives are critical for their development, and hugely impact their physical health, mental health and opportunity throughout their lives. The potential for the ‘levelling up’ agenda to support the early years is vast, and something we know is on the government’s agenda.

 

The webinar covered a huge range of issues, providing insight on subjects such as:

 

Watch a recording of the webinar:

 

 

 

 

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Webinar: In conversation with David Willetts

In light of the government’s recent announcement that it is scrapping the 50% university target, WA was delighted to speak to the Rt Hon Lord David Willetts on the future outlook for the higher education sector as part of our ‘In Conversation’ series on Tuesday 28th July 2020.

Lord Willetts is a former Minister of State for Universities and Science, and in 2017 he published ‘A University Education’, which offers a powerful account of the value of higher education and the case for more expansion.

The future for the higher education sector in the UK looks stark. The sector faces huge challenges over funding and the long-term financial sustainability of higher education institutions, but they also face political pressures on a range of other issues too, from grade inflation to Vice Chancellor pay. Compounding this are the challenges the sector now faces from Covid-19.

Given this, the discussion explored:

• Funding challenges, including the Augar Review, Brexit and pressures from Covid-19
• Grade inflation and the quality of degree courses
• Free speech on campuses
• Vice Chancellor pay
• How higher education institutions must adapt their teaching after Covid-19
• Conversely, the role that research and science can play in Covid-19 recovery

 

 

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Webinar: In Conversation with Jim Pickard

In his Summer Statement, the Chancellor set out his plan to ‘protect, create and support jobs’ but with questions remaining on exactly how the Government will rebuild the economy and what role business will play in the ‘New Deal for Britain’, all eyes are now firmly fixed on the next fiscal event – the Budget and Spending Review.

Watch WA Communications’ Directors Marc Woolfson and Lisa Townsend in conversation with Jim Pickard, the Chief Political Correspondent at the Financial Times, discussing how the ‘New Deal for Britain’ has been received by Conservative backbenchers and scrutinised by the Opposition, the scale of the financial challenges ahead, and what we might expect from the Autumn Statement in balancing competing priorities.

 

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Webinar: Priorities for mental health policy: the consequences of COVID-19

Clinical experts are talking of a ‘tsunami’ of mental ill health as the UK looks to recover from COVID-19; the challenge faced is not only stark for people who were living with mental ill health before the pandemic and who have struggled to access care, services and treatment, but for up to half a million additional people in the UK who are now estimated to have a mental illness.

The interplay between other health conditions and mental health is also more prominent than ever before.

All parts of society will have a role in helping to address this mental health challenge and health leaders and politicians will need to consider how health policy will need to adjust to deliver this.

To explore these issues, WA hosted a roundtable with an expert panel including:

Amongst other topics, the roundtable meeting discussed:

 

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Webinar: What does the future for apprenticeships, skills and FE look like?

WA Communications were delighted to host this panel discussion on what the future looks like for skills and training and how a strong approach to upskilling will need to underpin the government’s plans for recovery from Covid-19.

The Chancellor’s announcements in the Summer Statement and the recent speech from the Education Secretary show that skills is on the government’s agenda – but what is needed to truly support the sector and ensure both young people and working-age adults are given the opportunities to train to meet the skills gaps businesses need to be filled?

We were delighted to be joined by a panel including:

 

 

If you missed the webinar live, you can watch a recording of the event by filling in the form below:

 

Watch a recording of the webinar:

 

 

 

 

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2020 vision: What challenges lie ahead for higher education over the next year?

Higher education did not feature heavily in the 2019 general election campaign, with political attention inevitably focused on Brexit and the NHS.

The election result, however, will have significant implications for the higher education sector over the next year and beyond.

As ever, concerns over funding and the long-term financial sustainability of higher education institutions will dominate discussions within the sector. But beyond funding, higher education faces political pressures on a range of issues from grade inflation to Vice-Chancellor pay.

Below is a snapshot of the five biggest challenges facing the higher education sector in 2020:

 

Funding and fees

The Augar Review of post-18 education and funding, published in May 2019, recommended the government reduce tuition fees to £7,500 per year, with the government replacing any lost funding through increased grants to universities. The Conservatives’ general election victory means it is unlikely the government will cut tuition fees but there is some scope for funding shifts to support subjects deemed to be of most economic value.

Funding changes will emerge from the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) which determines the allocation of quality-related (QR) funding for research and will realign the funding settlements for research institutions.

Demonstrating the impact of research is worth 25 per cent of the 2021 REF, an increase from 20 per cent in the last iteration in 2014, and institutions will have to carefully consider how best to demonstrate the social and economic impact of their research beyond academia.

This will involve higher education institutions needing to prove their research has had a positive impact on the economy, government policy, public services, the environment or society, taking into account the priorities of the REF panel.

 

Brexit

Despite Boris Johnson running on the promise that he would ‘get Brexit done’, the implications of Brexit still loom large for higher education.

Indications suggest the government will charge EU students full international fees for the academic year following 2021/22, which could impact on demand and create financial pressure on institutions that recruit heavily from the EU.

There also remains the question of the extent to which the government will replace the lost income of universities from EU research funding beyond the end of the transition period.

 

Grade inflation

The past year has seen increased media and political attention paid to the number of Firsts and 2:1s awarded to students by UK universities, prompting fears grade inflation is undermining the value of British university degrees.

In response, the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment launched a new framework for the classification of degrees as part of a new voluntary code towards the end of 2019.

The extent to which the new code of practice is able to halt the number of top degree awards will determine whether the government seeks to introduce further regulatory oversight of the classification of degrees. How the government decides to deal with grade inflation will indicate the extent to which it is comfortable with the marketisation of the higher education sector.

As a potential consequence of institutions needing to attract students, the government may be forced to correct market incentives through increased regulation.

 

Free speech

Gavin Williamson has publicly stated universities must take steps to ensure free speech on campus or the government will legislate to protect freedom of expression. Writing in The Times last week, the Education Secretary warned higher education institutions that intimidation of academics by students and other protesters is unacceptable and they must do more to protect the safety of academics and their right to free speech. Williamson has pledged to change the legal framework to strengthen free speech rights if universities do not take sufficient action.

The intervention by the Education Secretary will be a challenge for universities as they try to balance the right of students to protest against the need for academic freedom and expression. The government’s demand for free expression on campus will be particularly tested when it comes to topics like transgender rights and the politics of the far-right.

 

Vice-Chancellor pay

Media and political scrutiny of Vice-Chancellor remuneration has continued into 2020, following recent analysis that nearly half of Russell Group universities have increased Vice-Chancellor pay over the past year. A lot of the pay increases awarded to university bosses have been above inflation, with the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool receiving a 12.8 per cent increase, increasing her annual pay to £410,000.

Some universities, such as the University of Southampton, have cut pay when appointing new Vice-Chancellors, and the Russell Group has stated pay awards are down by nearly two per cent across the group.

Faced with hostility from unions and students, higher education institutions will need to work hard to justify their pay awards to Vice-Chancellors to avoid further straining their relationships with ordinary staff and students.

 

 

 

 

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