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EduSkills blog: How should we fund post-18 education?

EduSkills blog: How should we fund post-18 education?

19th February 2018

Today the Prime Minister is set to announce the details of a major review into higher education funding.  The Education Secretary Damian Hinds suggested that the review may result in course tuition fees reflecting the expected earnings of graduates.

While it is likely that the review may produce moderate reforms rather than wholesale funding reform, it will open the debate around tertiary education funding which is currently being looked at by the Lords Economic Affairs Committee. Beyond the Labour Party’s National Education Service there are currently a number of ambitious funding proposals doing the rounds at the moment.

Last week a paper was formally launched at the UCL Institute of Education that proposed a National Learning Entitlement worth £5,000 a year to those aged 18 or above. This would offer access to university, further and adult education colleges for the equivalent of two years full-time. The current funding system, argues Professor Tom Schuller, one of the paper’s author’s, focuses post-school funding exclusively towards universities.  A learner entitlement would incentivize the FE sector to offer different types of courses. Importantly, the authors argue, students will be able to “move in and out of the system, and across it, instead of being locked into a single institution for a single course after a single choice made at 17 or 18”. The authors contrasted the £8bn learning entitlement with the Labour Party’s £10bn plan to abolish university tuition fees. Labour’s proposal, the paper warns, offers little for education routes outside university. Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Skills and Employment will get their chance to discuss these proposals with Shadow Skills, FE and HE minister Gordon Marsden MP when he addresses the Group later this month.

The Government has also responded to Matthew Taylor’s review of modern working practices. In response to Mr Taylor’s recommendation for funds from the apprenticeship levy to be made available to other high quality training routes, once the government’s three million apprenticeship target is met, the Government has said “We agree to consider next steps following delivery of current targets”. Having a more generalised levy is in line with a survey conducted by CIPD, which shows that 53% of employers paying the levy would prefer a more flexible training levy.

While the wider political climate may limit bold reforms, there is no shortage of possibilities for reform in FE and skills right now. Perhaps we may see a greater usage of the term ‘tertiary education’ over the next year? 

Lastly, on the subject on terminology, Further Education Trust for Leadership’s Professor Martin Doel gave his lecture on defining Further Education. One of his main points was that since 1917, FE has been defined by what it is not, rather than what it is. This, says Mr Doel, has given rise to a number of competing ideas about what FE is. To overcome the difficulty in defining FE, Mr Doel recommends that FE should be viewed as part of an eco-system.  On an institutional level, it is important for individual colleges to articulate their core purpose as this conveys a clear identity.  Mr Doel warned that a lack of a core purpose can partly explain the decline in FE funding. 

By Vishal Panchmatia