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Colleges should be allowed to award higher technical and vocational awards to close the skills gap

19 June 2019

Giving colleges similar autonomy to universities to award higher technical and vocational awards could contribute to a stronger economy, according to the Association of Colleges (AoC). In its new report Breaking the Mould: Creating higher education fit for the future, AoC called for higher technical and vocational education in England to be strengthened to help the country compete on a global scale. Figures show that although there are 1 million people working in science, engineering and technology sectors, this is just 3.7% of the workforce. In Europe the average is 5.3%. A recent OECD report also stated that the size of England’s post-secondary tertiary vocational education provision is small – just 10% - compared to other countries. A rebalance toward technical and vocational education is vital in ensuring the growth of the economy and AoC’s report looks at ways to improve the recognition of higher technical and vocational education by reforming funding and accreditation processes. It calls on the Government to allow colleges to have the equivalent of degree awarding status, and to work in conjunction with other colleges to make these awards, perhaps through the formation of a Technical Accreditation council. Martin Doel, AoC’s Chief Executive, said: “If we want the UK economy to succeed, higher technical and vocational education will be an enabler. In the past 50 years, there has been a continuous gravitational pull towards academic education as the sign of success, and it’s time we redressed the balance. At a time when we have a skills shortage, we know that technical and vocational education should be a route that is open to all and not just those presumed to be lacking the capability to go to university. “Further education colleges are perfectly placed to take on the role of providing higher technical vocational education; they have the expert teachers and the necessary state-of-the-art facilities. But in order to achieve true parity with academic education they need to have the autonomy to make awards that are built with employers to meet their needs as well as those of students. “What these award cover and contain are the critical factors, together with their rigour and responsiveness to the need of employers and students, but if calling them professional or technical degrees reduces the clutter in the system, then that may be worthy of consideration.