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College of the Future recommendations


Recommendation One

National strategies for education and skills to support economic growth, industrial change and lifelong learning.


Governments need to articulate a ten-year vision for education and training, from schools through to adult skills - enabling all individuals of all abilities and circumstances and regardless of age or their career stage to continue to learn, train and re-skill, and supporting better connection and coordination between delivery partners.

Each nation will develop its own national strategy which supports its respective industrial/ economic strategy. This will be based on a whole government approach with better integration across employment and skills to enhance lifelong learning, social inclusion and active ageing and to facilitate stronger partnerships nationally and locally/ regionally. National strategies will provide a flexible implementation framework for college networks/ regional colleges, which they can apply in their individual contexts working closely with employers and other key partners, to support the development of the whole workforce as well as initial education with opportunities for everyone to progress in their careers and actively contribute to their community.

Recommendation Two

College network strategies to meet local priorities across the tertiary education system.


Governments must introduce a duty on colleges to develop strategies across appropriate economic geographies that identify local and regional needs and priorities in line with the national strategy. These will be developed in consultation with employers and other key stakeholders, especially other education providers, and will deliver a coordinated approach to the learning and training offer. They will align to the local industrial structure, economic development plans and employment needs, strategic employer engagement, workforce development and local investment plans, including capital investment. This also requires a matched duty on other tertiary providers to collaborate, including universities, schools, independent training providers and adult community learning providers. This will be reinforced through institutional/ network outcome agreements across the appropriate economic geography, focused on long-term systems priorities.

Recommendation Three

Colleges as anchor institutions within the wider local and regional ecosystem.


Colleges must have a recognised role as key anchor institutions in the local community, supporting wider community action and services as well as providing education and learning. The new college network strategies will help build stronger partnerships with other public and private agencies and civic partners and their wider investment plans locally/ regionally. This will seek to ensure a more coherent and connected approach not only on skills and learning but in relation to colleges’ wider civic role, adding value to the existing ecosystem in a range of areas including business enterprise, public health, lifelong learning, eliminating digital exclusion and supporting social integration. Key partners will include employers and employer representative bodies, universities, schools and adult and community learning providers, the NHS, local authorities, student and trade unions and relevant charities.

Recommendation Four

A statutory right to lifelong learning.

For people to fulfil their potential, there should be a statutory right for people to be able to upskill and retrain throughout their lives through access to affordable and relevant lifelong learning opportunities. This should include a statutory free lifetime entitlement to studying or training up to English-Northern Irish-Welsh L3/ Scottish L6 – essential as the minimum platform which enables people to secure good quality-jobs in a modern economy. This entitlement should allow free choice for all adults across all publicly funded tertiary education and training providers. Funding should be equalised across further and higher education routes, with students able to access the maintenance support they need to engage in education and training, based on the following principles:

  • Equal maintenance support across loans and grants is available for individuals in further and higher education and advanced skills training, adequate to an individual’s needs whether part-time or full-time, so that everyone has the opportunity to pursue the route best suited to them throughout their lifetime.
  • Flexibility in the use of the entitlement and any associated maintenance support in grants and/or loans so that individuals able to build up their skills over time to match both their evolving career development needs and their personal circumstances.
  • Unemployed people do not lose their welfare benefits where they use their entitlement to reskill/retrain full-time in areas of identified job opportunities and skills shortages.

Recommendation Five

Skills guarantee for a post-COVID economy and future labour market changes.


COVID-19 has had a major impact on a range of sectors, causing largescale dislocation, accelerating radical wider long-term changes taking place in the labour market. People affected need targeted investment on top of the lifetime learning entitlement to upskill, retrain and reskill to help them find work in higher demand priority sectors. This offer should supplement any previous qualifications an individual has to help them maintain relevant skills, including in strategic priority sectors such as the green economy. The Skills Guarantee would provide free training to upskill employees at all levels including English-Northern Irish-Welsh Level 4/ Scottish Level 7. It should allow maximum flexibility to meet sector needs and to enable upskilling of employees over time in line with the needs of the business. Incentives should be offered to SMEs in the form of a contribution to wage replacement costs to encourage uptake and to contribute to productivity improvements in the wider economy.

Recommendation Six

A new strategic partnership with employers.


Colleges need close strategic partnerships with employers, nationally and locally/regionally to ensure that the new national and network strategies (recommendations 1, 2 and 3) meet the needs of employers as well as people and their communities. Major employers find it easier to engage, so colleges will need to reach out to SMEs and work closely with employer representative bodies – with significant scope for strengthening partnerships with sectoral networks too at national, regional and local levels.

Recommendation Seven

A new support service to employers.

Colleges have an expanded role to play in providing a business support and brokerage service to employers. This will provide the basis for establishing recognised sector/skills focused employer hubs appropriate to the local labour market priorities. Greater coordination between partners locally/regionally will open up the facilities and expertise of colleges to provide more efficiently and enhanced support to employers. It will encourage innovation by employers, support long-term workforce development plans and help move to a higher productivity, more technologically enabled and net-zero carbon economy.

Recommendation Eight

Stable funding and accountability frameworks for colleges.


Ensuring that colleges can take a longterm strategic focus and reinforcing strategic investment in colleges, the sector must be funded on the basis of three-year, block grant funding settlements, reflecting a trust-based strategic partnership between colleges and governments. This should be based on high-level strategic outcome agreements focused on strategic impacts, aligned to the agreed local network strategies.

Recommendation Nine

A strategic relationship with governments and simplified processes.

Oversight systems across the four nations must be simplified, driving efficiency, engendering greater trust and enabling better strategic coordination to deliver for systems outcomes across people, productivity and place. This must include developing a single post-16 education oversight and funding body within each nation (or in the case of NI, a coordinated approach within government) – crucial to ensuring a coherent lifelong education service, and to addressing nugatory competition between colleges and with other education providers.

Recommendation Ten

An ambitious future college workforce strategy.


Colleges need the best people who are fully empowered to deliver on this vision. Ensuring this must see colleges working with governments across the four nations to develop ambitious college workforce strategies, based on a comprehensive review within each of the four nations. A new social partnership between colleges, unions, employers and governments within each nation would oversee key strategic priorities, including:

• Ensuring and recognising the professional status of the college teaching workforce and the ongoing evolution of the profession - with a focus on continuous personal development, an expansion in secondment opportunities and a focus on developing diverse routes into the sector with a much more porous relationship with industry.

• Recognising and responding to changing aspirations and expectations of people, employers and communities, and the implications of this across both pedagogy and delivery – including with a focus on staff development opportunities and wellbeing.

• A proliferation in support functions including across careers advice, business support and student representation.

• Significant investment in the digital skills of the college workforce. The status of the college workforce should be further developed and extended through the establishment of a new UK-wide teaching network.

Recommendation Eleven

Diverse and representative systems leaders.

Colleges must be led by systems’ leaders who reflect the communities within which they are based and the students they serve. College representative organisations must review representation in leadership structures - with a focus on systematic, mandatory data collection on college leaders and governors by protected characteristics, including across race, gender, sexuality and disability. This data must be used to identify gaps in diversity, to develop targeted recruitment and development programmes in under-represented groups.

The Four Nations College Alliance should work with partner organisations across the UK to champion systems leadership capacities and competences across the four nations, including through development of the ongoing peer development programme.