Our Policy Position
Government must avoid the trap of equating higher education with “academic”, and thinking technical and vocational education are only available through other routes. Higher education has always provided high-level technical and professional degrees, valued by employers and often validated by professional bodies. GuildHE institutions include specialists in areas like agri-tech, design, fashion, digital, finance, law, marine, computer gaming, the built environment, performing arts, education and health care. They have teaching staff that are often industry professionals and close relationships with the industries they serve. If the problem is the skills needs of the new economy, institutions like ours are part of the solution. GuildHE members excel at delivering advanced technical skills for the economy which are both built into the curriculum and offered as additional activities.
The routes into higher education are complex. We believe that young people should be allowed to keep as many employment options open as possible. The balance between technical and academic qualtfications has long been unequal in the UK and in England esepcially which is why we are cautiously optimistic about the introduction of T-Levels. We think that there should not be an artificial divide between technical (T-Levels) and academic (A-Levels) qualifications and sufficient brigding qualificaitons between the two pathways. You can read our response to the T-Levels qualification below.
A key way in which the sector can understand and respond to the skills needs of the economy is by thinking more broadly than STEM. The creative sector is the fastest growing economy, and a jointly written report from GuildHE and Emsi demonstrated that creative-focussed universities and colleges contributes £8.4bn and over 312,000 jobs to the UK economy. GuildHE believe that there needs to be more support for creative skills, which will not only support this growth, but support graduates in other careers. The Future of Skills Employment In 2030 report from NESTA suggests that creative skills are going to be particularly important with the advancement of technology.
Degree apprenticeships are a good idea with the potential to increase student choice significantly, and many of our members are delivering Higher and Degree Level apprenticeships. However, we believe their development is being held back by unrealistic and apparently arbitrary decisions about funding, and the slow rate of progress in agreeing new apprenticeship standards. And they are not a panacea, they work best for big employers – but sectors dominated by micro-businesses SMEs and self-employed professionals find it impossible to engage in the development of programmes and recruitment of apprentices and will continue to rely on existing, industry-standard degrees which our members deliver.
GuildHE have been working with a number of industry professional bodies to improve engagement in the development of L4+ standards, and attend regular meetings with DfE on the roll out of the policy. We have written to the Minister for Skills and Chair of the Education Select committee as well as the OfS to highlight our concerns with the implementation of the policy. We continue to work collaboratively with UVAC, UUK and the university mission groups to lobby for changes to the management of the apprenticeship programme.
DfE Level 4 and 5 review
GuildHE are committed to ensuring there are many ways to gain a higher leevel qualification, and many of our members engage in delivering sub degree level courses. We have been workign with DfE to identify the specifiic challenges of operating level 4 and 5 qualficiations, and how we could potenitally grow this provision in future. Some of the challenges relate to the differences between academic standards and prestige of those listed on the Framework for Higher Education Qualfiications and those that are regulated by OFQUAL. Other issues include how they are funded, quality assured and monitoried – and how employers understand what all the different levels mean in practice. Where industry bodies take a lead on managing and cooridnating national qualifications, these tend to have a higher uptake than those developed by training providers themselves.
Our members commitment to Professional learning
Many GuildHE member institutions are closely alligned to professions, with strong commitments to working with industry partners, and preparing students for employment, whether in Fine Art or Finance. This commitment to vocational, as well as academic, education, is routiniely embedded in the curriculum, with professional placements, live briefs and fieldwork. Many courses are run in partnership with businesses, while others led by academic staff with a background or continuing involvement in their industry.
There is strong evidence that students value this professionally-focussed education; industry or professional experience was seem as a more important characteristic of teaching staff than training in how to teach or current research activity in the 2015 HEPI/HEA Student Academic Experience Survey.
We are concerned that this value may not be recognised by policy-makers, and that the TEF may incentivise providers to invest in other forms of teaching and learning, rather than in practice-informed methods. We are working with member institutions to highlight this important form of teaching and learning.
Links to our work
Practice-informed learning report, when published