In previous issues we have looked at possible changes to tertiary education in Australia.
What has the recent review of post-18 education in the UK released in May this year say needs to change there?
Why look at this?
Simply because so much of what we do in Australia has drawn inspiration from practices in the UK. This is, after all, the country that inspired our move to competency-based training!
So much of their tertiary system: apprenticeships, higher education and the development of skills and further education has been modelled on, or inspired by, the roots and branches our system has grown from their seeds.
In Australia recently Steven Parker from KPMG, Dawkins, Noonan and Hurley from the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University, and the Joyce Review, have all put their views. While these hyperlinks take you to the original reports, all have also been summarised in earlier VDC News articles. A comparison with directions in the UK, especially England, is timely. The 216-page report, entitled: “Independent panel report to the Review of Post-18
Education and Funding” is worth a look. Here are some highlights.
What were the principles that underpinned the review?
The review was guided by eight principles. Starting with the last principle first, the review panel believes that post-18 education needs to be forward looking. It needs to respond to future challenges and more of the same will not be enough. Another principle noted the value of such education to society, the economy and individuals. But they also pointed out that more ‘quantity’ does not “translate into social, economic and personal good.” That translation depends on “the quality, accessibility and direction of study.”
Like us here in Australia, they noted the disparity in resources between higher and further education, and the effect this has on equality of opportunity. The decline in numbers getting a post-18 education also needs to be reversed, they say, with an increased focus on non-degree level studies.
Other principles also have their mirrors in the recent debates in Australia, including a greater accountability on the part of providers receiving funds and shared funding by taxpayers, employers and learners. However, government needs to “ensure that its investment in tertiary education is appropriately spent and directed.” Principle 7 of the review panel maintains that post-18 education cannot be left entirely to market forces. As they point out:
“The idea of a market in tertiary education has been a defining characteristic of English policy since 1998. We believe that competition between providers has an important role to play in creating choice for students but that on its own it cannot deliver a full spectrum of social, economic and cultural benefits. With no steer from government, the outcome is likely to be haphazard.”
What did the UK’s independent panel’s review propose to strengthen the system?
The review panel reported that while there was “much to be celebrated,” improvements are possible and needed. Their core message is to address the disparity between those attending higher education and those who don’t. That sounds familiar to an Australian audience. So do the solutions. These include strengthening technical education at the sub-degree level to address structural skill shortages, improving funding and providing:
“a more coherent suite of higher technical and professional qualifications [to] help level the playing field with degrees and drive up both the supply of and demand for such courses.”
They also propose “increasing opportunities for everyone” and encouraging greater flexibility in the system. Greater part-time and ‘later life’ or lifelong learning are seen as real ways forward, funded through a recommended lifelong learning allowance throughout an individual’s career and across both higher technical and degree level programs. This approach has been proposed here too by the Business Council of Australia.
The UK review recommends reforming and refunding the FE college network by means of an increased base rate of funding for high return courses, additional capital investment and, importantly, investment in the FE workforce “to improve recruitment and retention.” They proposed closer links with HE and other providers to develop a genuinely national system.
The quality and quantity of apprenticeships needs to be improved, the review believes. It proposes to do this “by providing learners with better wage return information” and addressing both quality issues at provider level and the barriers small to medium enterprises – SMEs – face within the apprenticeship system.
Their final tilt is at the level of higher education funding, seeing efficiency requirement placed on higher education providers and a reduction in the over-supply of some courses and low-level degrees to incentivise these institutions to “increase the provision of courses better aligned with the economy’s needs.”
Sounds like the problems and issues we face here in Australia are often the same in other places.