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Progress through practice

29 June 2016

Colleges play an important and often undervalued role in providing the higher technical and professional education this country needs. At the last count 244 colleges offered higher education qualifications to students. However, there remains, particularly amongst parents and policymakers, the traditional and outdated understanding of higher education being centred on three-year academic provision at the age of 18. Times have changed and people are looking at the different options there are available. Nearly 160,000 people already choose to study higher education at a college, 70% of whom live within 25 miles of their institution. Higher education and the way it is taught will continue to change. The Higher Education and Research Bill which was published at the end of May reinforces this. Of course, given the result of the referendum and the changes in priorities for the Government, who knows when, or indeed if, this will continue in its current form. The Association of Colleges (AoC) suggests that higher education in the future should reflect three paths – academic, technical and professional, and apprenticeships. What’s important is that each of these strands is given equal value and prominence. We need to move away from an academic education being seen as the ‘gold’ standard. While for many subjects it will continue to be, there are a huge raft of subjects where a purely academic understanding will not provide graduates with the prerequisite employability skills needed for a particular role. That’s why college based higher education is so important. College students not only benefit from being able to learn the academic, theoretical basis of their chosen subject, but also have the opportunity to apply it directly. This week AoC launched a new publication – Progress Through Practice. This highlights the breadth of higher education opportunities available at colleges. The opportunities vary from a Degree Apprenticeship in Aerospace Engineering to a degree in Sportsturf Science and Management; from a Foundation Degree in Early Childhood Studies to degree in robotics and mechatronics. Colleges are key to the national productivity agenda, identifying skills gaps and developing innovative curricula in niche areas to respond to emerging trends. This is going to be so critical following last week’s referendum result. Nick Davy is the Higher Education Policy Manager for the Association of Colleges.