An integrated tertiary education system?

No. 7 in a series of guest posts by G. R. Evans

figure-for-last-post‘The world of education is not just boxed up into different sections; it is linear’, protested Neil Carmichael in the Second Reading debate. Several speakers drew attention to the move of the ‘teaching’ role of higher education providers into the Department for Education a few days earlier. They pointed to the need this suggested for joined-up thinking about the relationships of the parts of the education system, especially further education and higher education and the new apprenticeships scheme, and also part-time and lifelong education.

Gordon Marsden asked:

If the opportunity for students at 16 and beyond to switch between higher education and vocational routes is to be real, why is the skills plan not linked directly with the HE White Paper?

Margaret Greenwood pointed to a further ‘linear’ need to be met, that of adult learners. ‘Sadly the Bill is very short on anything to do with lifelong learning and part-time education.’

There were several specific calls for a review of the relationship of higher education to ‘technical education’. Liam Byrne called for ‘a holistic review to put in place a single, comprehensive dual-track system for technical education’. Gordon Marsden asked whether the ‘high-level graduate skills’ the UK is agreed to need should ‘include levels of technical professional competence?’

If so, why is there no strong linkage with the skills plan released by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills just two weeks ago? There is an obvious need for crossover between the skills plan and the higher education Bill, but the disconnect between them makes even less sense now that the Department for Education will be taking on skills and further education policy.

The relationship of further to higher education was also mentioned. Liam Byrne called for ‘a new partnership between further education and higher education’, ‘missing from the Bill’:

If we want to grow the number of students on level 5 apprenticeships, we need to transform the level of integration and collaboration that exists between further education and higher education.

He asked why ‘that dual-track system not being encouraged by placing a duty to collaborate at the heart of the Office for Students?’

The reorganisation of the Department for Education to include higher education was felt to throw into sharp relief the need for parliamentary scrutiny of the Higher Education and Research Bill in the context of associated current developments in these other areas of educational provision and legislation.

Collaboration and partnerships are already extensive and varied

The Higher Education and Research Bill strongly endorses competition between higher education providers, to the extent of encouraging ‘provider exit’ if new ‘challenger institutions’ succeed in ousting existing providers. But John Pugh asked in the Second Reading debate why the Secretary of State, having ‘identified that collaboration is in the interests of students and employers’, is ‘objecting to putting it in the Bill?’

Partnership and collaborative arrangements where one provider offers courses leading to degrees awarded by another are so varied and so extensive that the Quality Assurance Agency has found it helpful to provide a guide in Chapter B 10 of the Quality Code. In the Second Reading debate Mike Wood mentioned ‘partnerships’ such as the one between Coventry University, Birmingham City University and the University of Wolverhampton recently lunched ‘to bring together their applied research and training expertise’.

The introduction of Foundation Degrees (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) in 2001 was intended to encourage further education colleges to provide courses with employer engagement which could also be ‘topped up’ to honours degrees by a further year’s study.

Roger Mullin linked the general advantages of better collaboration with the need for improved links between further and higher education. In Scotland, he pointed out, ‘twenty-five per cent of all students who enter higher education’ do so ‘through the college sector, and many colleges are in collaborative arrangements with universities.’

The Public Bills Committee has requested submissions on the Bill, which can be emailed to:

Points to raise:

  • Does it make sense to create higher-education-only legislation for England while so much is developing in the provision of higher-level skills and apprenticeships? Should we consider how to integrate these overlapping streams?

See the previous posts on the Higher Education and Research Bill by G. R. Evans:

  1. The Higher Education and Research Bill: The need to stop and think
  2. TEF and tuition fee rises are not in the Higher Education and Research Bill
  3. Speedy entrances and sharp exits: Letting in more alternative providers
  4. Consequences for institutional autonomy and academic freedom
  5. Placing teaching and research in different Departments of State
  6. The Bill covers only England: Are there risks to the reputation of UKHE?