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The UK’s success post-Brexit relies on “a new social contract” and the delivery of a world-class technical and professional education system

20 May 2019

A recent poll of SMEs showed that 6 in 10 say that their biggest concern is finding employees with the right skills, whilst 58% believe that the UK will get left behind if governments do not do something to address the issue. A new discussion paper, written by further education leaders in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales has been published today, outlining the best ways for the government to address these fears and to deliver a strong economy and robust labour market once we have left the European Union. ‘Developing a Four Nations College Blueprint for a Post-Brexit Economy’ proposes “a new social contract” to better fund all full-time and part-time students in both further and higher education. Based on the principles of the Diamond Review in Wales, this would also provide an entitlement to maintenance grants up to the equivalent of the National Living Wage for all UK citizens. Colleges across the UK currently educate and train 2.7 million people and are calling for “a new social partnership” with them, employers, unions and governments to set the vision and strategy and support its implementation to ensure that the challenges are being met. This partnership will be vital to promote skills as a crucial part of a successful future, and to engage employers, people and communities in the behaviour and culture changes we need to become a lifelong learning society. Other recommendations include: A Lifetime Learning Entitlement - A legal entitlement to accredited education and training, linked to labour market needs. Individuals would be able to access cash, allowing them to engage with education and training at the right time for them. This would be funded by ringfencing part of the adult education budget. National Retraining Programme - The programme would form a relatively short-term investment to improve productivity, fill significant emerging skills gaps in priority areas. This would also be funded through a ringfence of the adult education budget. A Better Jobs Deal - As recommended by the Resolution Foundation’s Intergenerational Commission, an active labour market programme offering practical support for younger workers in low-skilled and insecure employment to train to progress into better jobs. David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “The challenges posed by a post-Brexit economy mean we’re looking at a major slowdown in skilled migration. Furthermore, the increasing skills gap in areas like STEM and other key sectors mean we need to focus our efforts more than ever on having a technical education system which meets the needs of all – allowing them to train and retrain throughout their careers, with colleges being central to this. “Colleges are vital for delivering the education and training needed for people of all ages. They boost productivity, strengthen the economy and they are eager to deliver more. After years of under-investment the next Government needs to support colleges to develop a culture of lifelong learning.” Shona Struthers, Chief Executive of Colleges Scotland, said: “We are excited to see the launch of the Four Nations College Blueprint. The blueprint is the result of the college sector across the UK coming together and working in partnership to ensure that colleges are prepared for the challenges that lie ahead in the post-Brexit landscape. This blueprint will assist in providing learners with the necessary professional, technical and vocational skills to succeed in the ever evolving, innovative labour market. “Colleges are at the heart of inclusive, sustainable economic growth and, by working collaboratively across the four nations of the UK, we can collectively build on our strengths, and effect positive change for the benefit of learners, employers and the communities we serve.” Dafydd Evans, Chair of CollegesWales, said: “Colleges in Wales advocate the establishment of the Four Nations alliance and see it as an opportunity to collectively define the future role of colleges in a modern economy. Building on their shared values and ambition, colleges are key contributors in widening access and participation, tackling social exclusion and stimulating economic regeneration. “Whilst respecting the different contexts and jurisdictions of all devolved nations, we believe that there is real value in this new partnership, capitalising on the rich diversity of practice across the sector to create lifelong learning opportunities. With better investment, colleges can play an even more pivotal role in meeting the key labour market challenges, which lie ahead. Colleges in Wales remain confident that the unified approach by colleges across the Four Nations is key to recovery and a thriving British economy, and we are excited about what this alliance can achieve.” Brian Doran, Chair of the Northern Ireland College Principals Group, said: “Colleges of further education in Northern Ireland welcome the establishment of the Four Nations Alliance and fully endorse the proposed social partnership between colleges, employers, unions and governments as set out in the Fours Nations College Blueprint. “Whilst recognising that there are policy differences across the home nations it is vitally important that we also recognise that there is significant commonality and opportunity to tap into the rich diversity of practice across the sector. It is critical, now more than ever, that governments recognise, value and support colleges across the four nations in their work in creating a more inclusive society, contributing to social fairness and in developing the current and future workforce of the UK. We look forward to playing our part in helping to shape the future role of colleges in a post-Brexit world.” The disccusion paper looks at the skills deficiencies within the UK and suggests a radical rethink of public policy and investment is paramount if the major challenges posed to governments, employers and people around the UK are to be addressed adequately. Colleges are central to reform, providing education and training to more than three million people every year.