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The Northern Ireland College of the Future

A final report


What do we want and need from our colleges from 2030 onwards, and how do we get there? These were the simple, yet fundamental questions the Commission set out to answer when it began work in Spring 2019.

As the Commission reaches its concluding stages, its UK-wide final report set out a rallying cry for decisive action - enabling colleges to be part of a more joined-up, all-age education and skills system, which enables individuals ultimately to have greater agency and opportunities across their lifetimes.

Now, the Commission has published the final of its nations-specific final reports. This report is for the Northern Ireland College of the Future.

Download the Northern Ireland report

The Northern Ireland College of the Future report argues that colleges are the vehicles to regionally balance the economy, support businesses to adapt to a green and digital economy and provide better skills opportunities for those out of work. It adds that to deliver on a higher ambition for skills, recognition of their unique role and sustainable investment are needed.

As a Learning & Work Institute reported recently, on current trajectories Northern Ireland stands to lag further behind on learning and skills and could have the fourth highest proportion of low qualified people out of 16 OECD countries by 2030.

This report affirms and builds on the detailed analysis from the OECD last summer, supporting the direction of travel in Northern Ireland but calling for a fundamental shift in the role of colleges within the education and skills system and how colleges work collaboratively with schools and universities.

In anticipation of the Executive’s Skills Strategy consultation, the commission is calling for putting colleges at the heart of economic policy.


This report makes a number of central recommendations, which reaffirm and build on themes set out in the UK-wide final report.


1. Establishing a central oversight body and a skills advisory board to support the effective implementation, coordination, and oversight of a higher ambition for skills.

2. Developing a single governance structure across Northern Ireland colleges to streamline accountability and funding and maximise the impact of colleges across all aspects of the Northern Ireland economy and society.


Investing sustainably in colleges to (a) redress historical inequalities between college funding and that of schools and universities, and to (b) maximise colleges’ contribution to business and community support through uncoupling funding from the headcount of individual students.

4. Committing to a statutory right to lifelong learning to ensure that everyone can access learning when they need it and developing and implementing a digital action plan with a network of ‘community hubs’ to address digital exclusion.


5. Defining what colleges and universities deliver
to avoid unnecessary competition and duplication and to allow for the improvement of curriculum pathways, progression routes and careers advice and guidance across schools, colleges and universities.


While there are common challenges and opportunities for colleges across the four nations, the Commission’s recommendations for each nation are distinct and particular to the respective policy and political contexts. Reports have now been published for England, Scotland and Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Get involved in the conversation using @CollegeComm / #CollegeoftheFuture or share you thoughts with us via email by contacting us below.

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