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‘Productivity’ is the new buzz word for the Government. At the AELP conference this week, the Skills Minister, Nick Boles MP, highlighted the UK’s dismal record on productivity. He recalled what the Chancellor has recently said, that “the French could take Friday off and still produce more than Britons do in a week.”
He justified the government’s focus on apprenticeships by pointing to research just released by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, highlighting that apprenticeships had a 43% greater return on public investment compared to other vocational courses.
The report, entitled ‘Measuring the Net Present Value of Further Education in England’ states that there is a £28 return for every £1 invested in level 3 apprenticeships, but for non-apprenticeship courses at the same level, the return was just £16.
In these tough economic times, a return of £28 to every £1 must sound very alluring to George Osborne, but even a £16 return for every £1 spent for the non-apprenticeship courses is still a worthwhile investment.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the Government’s ambition to deliver 3 million more apprenticeships by 2020 is laudable and achievable. It is raising the profile of the FE sector and investing in the future of young people.
However, I am concerned that focusing purely on the short-term yield the Treasury will get from apprenticeships may be to the detriment of other parts of the FE sector which positively contributes to society in so many different ways.
It is hugely important that colleges provide a broad curriculum in order to offer the greatest opportunities for social mobility. Having a wide range of courses and programmes at different levels allows school leavers to gain the skills and qualifications they require for successful careers and enables adults to access higher education or retrain in light of changing circumstances. Many FE colleges have excellent links with local employers - providing the skills, training and workforce needed to run and grow their businesses. They are also hubs of advice, guidance and support for our young people.
The sector is quite rightly concerned about where the Chancellor’s axe will fall when he delivers his Budget next month. Whilst we know that apprenticeships will be given a seat in the life raft, other areas of FE may face painful decisions. As Nick Boles said in his speech to AELP “difficult choices will be taken on those programmes which do not return good value”.
However, good value should not be judged purely by monetary value. Good value can mean different things to different people. Whilst a non-apprenticeship programme may not deliver the hefty economic returns the Chancellor may be looking for, broader further education has a rich value beyond that which is purely economic. The government would do well to remember that before it is too late.
Charlotte Bosworth - Director of Skills and Employment
Charlotte is Director of Skills and Employment and has a focus on the vision and execution of plans for all vocational provision. Charlotte’s career within Education commenced in 1996 with RSA Examinations Board and vast experience in curriculum, assessment and qualifications has been accumulated during this time.
Charlotte has spent much of her career working in partnership with thought leaders in education to influence curriculum delivery and development, and to ensure best practice is assimilated into the development of qualifications, assessments and teaching resources. Much of Charlotte’s work has included building relationships and interpreting the needs of employers.
She is a fellow of The Royal Society of Arts and is a member of a number of groups that influence education policy within the UK.