The East Riding College column with principal Mike Welsh: A new vision for the future of education

The Independent Commission on the College of the Future issued their report for England earlier in November, and its findings will, to some extent shape the future of colleges like ours in Bridlington.

Friday, 27th November 2020, 7:28 am
East Riding College’s Bridlington campus at St Mary’s Walk.

The report asks the question: What do we want and need from our colleges from 2030 onwards, and how do we get there? These were the simple, yet fundamental questions the commission set out to answer when it began work in Spring 2019. The commission’s vision for the college of the future is one that they hope will empower people throughout their lives with the skills they need to get on in life, support better productivity and innovation of businesses, and strengthen every community’s sense of place. Of course, at East Riding College, we’re all for that!

The commission’s initial UK-wide report sent out a rallying cry for radical and decisive action – calling for colleges to be part of a more joined-up, all-age education and skills system. Now, with the publication of the first of its nations-specific final reports, the commission is focussing on the post-16 education and skills system in England.

It claims that the current system is not set up to empower colleges to offer the full range of opportunities needed for people to reach their full potential, especially for the 50% that do not go to university. Nor does the system enable colleges to best meet the needs of businesses facing enormous change and challenges. It makes recommendations, that if implemented through the government’s upcoming FE White paper, will put employer voice at the heart of the system, to help transform lives.

The key recommendations the commission makes are:

1. Introduce a legal duty on colleges to establish networks across appropriate economic geographies – which must be matched by a duty on all other post 16 education providers – to collaborate in the interests of students, communities and the economy.

2. Forming a cross-departmental ministerial taskforce or body to oversee a new UK Government 10-year strategy for education and skills to drive the industrial strategy and other priorities.

3. Funding colleges to deliver specialised and targeted business support, creating employer “hubs” in key sectors and occupational pathways, especially in digital, construction, engineering, and health and social care.

4. Creating a statutory right to lifelong learning by making lifelong learning accessible and financially viable to all through offering equal loans and grants across further education and higher education so that everyone can access the training they need, no matter where they come from, their circumstance or their background.

5. Investing in colleges through three-year grant settlements to give colleges the confidence and funding to deliver strategically for people, productivity and place in the economic rebuild.

6. Streamlining regulation, accountability and the funding system to reduce bureaucracy.

Colleges like ours already strive to work collaboratively and deliver support to employers, but any government support to tackle the limitations of the ‘system’ we work within is welcomed by all in the sector.