Changes proposed in the Government’s new High Level Skills Strategy will only prove viable if they are carefully thought through and properly funded, GuildHE university and college heads have said.

The Strategy consultation document, published today, presents significant challenges that will be difficult to meet within existing funding models and budget constraints. Bringing about a culture change in higher education and among employers and employees to raise the status of High Level Skills will require the introduction of new incentives for all parties as well as new ways of working. Speaking for some of the country’s newest universities and university colleges and specialist institutions, GuildHE expressed strong support for the aims of the new Strategy.

GuildHE chief executive Alice Hynes said: “We have much relevant experience and views to contribute, and so we will play a full and active role in the consultation process and the search for ways to make the aspirations a reality.”

GuildHE member institutions have already adopted a business-integrated way of working, which means they are collaborating closely with businesses and professional bodies.

In particular, GuildHE is fully behind proposals in the Strategy document for a new way of measuring quality in higher education that give greater recognition to excellence among business-integrated institutions.

But GuildHE warns that the proposed reforms may be hard to follow through, even by its own members, without further investment or a “radical realignment of resources”.

Alice Hynes, GuildHE chief executive, said: “The sector has been pushed to achieve significant expansion and good economies of scale, which is why full-time education is still at the heart of what most institutions do. Finding new ways to be more flexible and responsive to the needs of employers and employees must either be properly paid for, or be part of some radical realignment of resources which may run counter to other widening participation agendas for the 14 to 19 age group.

“The exciting factor for GuildHE institutions is that these are environments they are familiar with, and that connection of theory and practice is at the heart of the kind of education they have shown how to deliver.” 

Achieving buy-in from academic staff could also prove a major challenge unless new ways of funding their work are introduced.   Alice Hynes added: “Stretching the staff in our institutions four ways as teachers, researchers, and active practitioners in their own right, as well as playing a part in the local and regional communities, is already making high demands. Addressing this new strategy will mean colleagues will have to find different ways to juggle their work.It will mean employment-led courses will have to move from being an extra to a core funding stream, placing much more market forces into the HE income mix.”

David Baker, GuildHE chair and principal of University College Plymouth St Mark and St John, added: “It is extremely important to maintain and develop the links between skills and scholarship, if the Government is really serious about ensuring that it is a High Level Skills Strategy it is talking about.”