Nadhim Zahawi – 2019 Speech on Higher Technical Education Reform

Below is the text of the speech made by Nadhim Zahawi, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, in the House of Commons on 8 July 2019.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the consultation on higher technical education in England at levels 4 and 5, which we have launched today.

Over the past year, the Government have undertaken a comprehensive review of classroom-based higher technical education, which provides an alternative to apprenticeships at levels 4 and 5. Qualifications at this level sit between level 3 qualifications, such as A-levels and the new T-levels, and level 6 qualifications, such as bachelor’s degrees. As part of the review, we gathered evidence and listened to many further and higher education providers, awarding organisations, employers and others. The consultation launched today sets out our proposals to address the multiple related challenges and opportunities that we have identified through the review.

We want higher technical education to be a prestigious choice that delivers the skills that employers need, that encourages more students to continue to study after A-levels or T-levels and that attracts people of all ages who are looking to upskill and retrain. The proposals in the consultation are the next step in our programme to reform technical education. We want to build on the introduction of T-levels and our investment in apprenticeships as part of our modern industrial strategy to improve productivity and help people to progress in their work and in their lives.

The Government’s review of higher technical education found that there is growing employer demand for the skills provided by higher technical education, but we also found that the uptake of higher technical qualifications is low by international standards, has fallen over time, and is low by comparison with other levels of education. Some higher technical qualifications and courses are well recognised and valued by employers and students, but overall there is low awareness and varying quality, with the range of terminology, qualifications and provider types creating a complex picture that is hard for employers and students to navigate.

The starting point for our reforms is to raise the prestige of higher technical education more widely and strengthen its value to employers by putting their needs and quality first. Improving quality now—to demonstrate the value of higher technical qualifications—will lead to increased uptake of higher technical education in the future. To do this, we are proposing an approach to make it clearer which higher technical qualifications provide the skills that employers want. This will be delivered through the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, signalling which qualifications deliver the knowledge, skills and behaviours set out in employer-led national standards. As we want qualifications at this level to be understood and recognised as high quality by employers, their involvement in qualification design is crucial, so they will be at the centre of our reforms.

Alongside our proposals on qualifications, we also want to grow high-quality higher technical education provision, boost leadership and encourage greater specialisation and close collaboration so that providers can more effectively and efficiently respond to the local skills needs of employers. We will do that by working ​with the Office for Students to demonstrate the quality of providers, so that there is more high-quality provision delivered across higher and further education, including through our flagship employer-led national colleges and institutes of technology. The Office for Students will develop a set of technical ongoing registration conditions specifically for providers delivering courses leading to higher technical qualifications. These will align with the model used to assess the quality of applications for the institutes of technology programme and act as a precursor to access full public funding for approved higher technical qualification provision.

Finally, we want to make higher technical education a positive and more popular choice by raising awareness and understanding of the new suite of qualifications approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in colleges and universities and among potential students and, of course, their employers. We will improve the information, advice and guidance available to potential students and boost employer knowledge of how these qualifications can address their skills needs. At the same time, we will improve the accessibility of higher technical education through flexible delivery and improve signposting of financial support, so that as many students as possible have the chance to get the qualifications that are right for them.

We know that change will not happen overnight. Higher technical education has been an area of relative neglect over decades, and we want to work with everyone who wants to improve higher technical education. I strongly encourage everyone with an interest to contribute to the debate so that we can build the world-class technical education system that our students deserve and our country needs. I commend this statement to the House.