The Education Committee has today (8 Dec) published the written evidence for its inquiry into value for money in higher education.

This is the written evidence from Confederation of British Industry (CBI) recommending to:

Enhance the diversity of provision within higher education so that it is responsive to the needs of both students and employers

As the world of work changes, so too must our universities. To ensure higher education can continue in its vital role as a skills provider for the future, more needs to be done to diversify the forms of provision on offer and allow additional routes to higher skills.

With future prosperity reliant on the skills and ingenuity of our people, no industry has a bigger part to play in supporting economic and social growth than our world-leading higher education sector.

As well as being central to the UK’s innovation ecosystem, the higher education sector will be vital in helping to develop and supply the skills pipeline necessary to face future challenges, with the value that graduates bring to business being clear. According to the latest CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey, over the past year, more than eight in ten businesses (85 per cent) have maintained or increased their levels of graduate recruitment.

In addition, figures from the Department for Education for England make clear, graduates have consistently had lower unemployment rates than non-graduates, with employment rates for graduates in 2016 being 88 per cent for postgraduates and 87 per cent for graduates compared to 70 per cent of non-graduates.

With the world of work changing, the UK urgently needs to address its skills shortages.

Businesses are already reporting skills shortages across the UK’s nations and regions – and when it comes to filling skilled roles in the future, many are not confident they will be able to find sufficient recruits. Whilst it is hard to predict how access to skilled migrants might change as the UK leaves European Union, it is clear that additional routes to higher skills will be of increasing importance as three quarters of businesses (75 per cent) expect to have more job openings for people with higher-level skills over the coming years with just 2 per cent expecting to have fewer.

To help support more people into higher skills, universities and the government need to do more to develop non-standard ways of engaging with higher education.

Alongside the traditional routes, such as first-degree courses and postgraduate study, the government – and business – should do more to encourage flexible provision within universities. This includes, but is not limited to, part-time study, degree apprenticeships, sandwich degrees, accelerated degrees, distance learning, work-related learning and mixed modes of study.

The CBI has welcomed the government’s commitment to introduce income contingent maintenance loans for part-time students, however this support also need to be made available to those undertaking distance learning as well as lower level qualifications (such as Certificates, Diplomas and Foundation Degrees). This is essential given the diversity of students who require non-standard university provision.

Due to a host of other factors – such as work commitments, caring responsibilities, physical and/or mental health issues (to name just a few) – non-standard provision is often the only way that these groups can access higher education and develop their skills. As we move towards an economy which increasingly needs more high skilled workers, this is an urgent and pressing concern.

As the 2017 CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey outlined, due to the UK’s changing occupational structure, nearly half of all jobs (47 per cent) by 2024 will require workers to have completed some form of higher education (level 4 and higher, though not necessarily at level 6), and with the IPPR reporting in July 2017 that two-thirds of the workforce of 2030 have already left fulltime education, allowing workers to retrain whilst in employment will be essential.

For example, Coventry University and Unipart Manufacturing Group have come together to create the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering (AME) which represents a bespoke ‘faculty on the factory floor’ aiming to develop industry-ready graduates.

Or Middlesex University who, as a ‘University for Skills’, are developing a range of Apprenticeship Degrees in Sales, Management, Digital Solutions, Building Information Modelling (BIM) Management, Construction, Creative and Aviation.

The Apprenticeship Levy should be developed into a more flexible ‘skills levy’ so that it can better meet the needs of business and learners.

The CBI has welcomed degree apprenticeships as an exciting new route into higher education which could prove attractive to those who would not traditionally undertake degree-level study.

However the 61 per cent decline in apprenticeship starts since the introduction of the Levy underlines why the CBI has consistently called for the Levy to be made more flexible. A more flexible levy could allow higher education institutions to use funds towards a variety of different types of training that better meets the needs of our economy as well as students themselves.

This includes supporting more part-time provision, employer-sponsored sandwich degrees and postgraduate researcher training as well as extending support for those undertaking level 4 qualifications.

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