Experts comment on Labour plans for new “Technical Degrees”

Labour leader Ed Miliband has proposed that the next Labour government would introduce “Technical Degrees. ” This would see universities and business working together to put vocational subjects on an equal footing with traditional academic degrees.

Speaking at the Higher Ambitions international summit organised by the Sutton Trust, Mr Miliband said, “This is a new direction for our country, equal status for vocational qualifications from school to university and beyond, equipping our young people with the skills they need and providing our country with a reason to be confident for the future so we can compete with the very best economies in the world in a race to the top.”

Comment from Alison Wolf, Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management at King’s College London, said:

“This is a surprisingly confusing speech. Apparently it is about the ‘forgotten 50%’ who don’t currently go to university. But it seems to imply that the Labour Party is as convinced as it ever was that higher education is what everybody needs –and that an apprenticeship is only going to be worthwhile if it leads to this new thing called a Technical Degree.

If you are giving a speech saying there is more than one route to success, then why immediately talk down apprenticeship by implying it needs a degree at the end of it to attract young people? It doesn’t, if you go by numbers. Apprenticeships are wildly over-subscribed – the shortfall is in supply not demand.

And where, also, does this speech leave the Foundation Degrees which were one of the major initiatives of the last Labour government and launched by them in 2001 as part of a skills revolution?

Foundation Degrees sound and look a lot like these new Technical Degree to most of us. Foundation Degrees were, and indeed are, ‘employment-related higher education qualifications which have been designed with employers to meet their requirements for skilled individuals able to apply specialist knowledge in the workplace.’ If they didn’t do the trick before, why will they this time?”

Comment from Professor Ewart Keep, of the Centre on Skills, Knowledge & Organisational Performance at Oxford University said:

“Improving the routes taken by young people entering a traditional university degree is a very important goal, but making progress on the agenda raised in Ed Miliband’s speech will be tough.

The new Technical Degrees will need employers to increase Level 3 apprenticeship numbers, help universities to design new courses, and hire the young people who go on them so that they can earn and learn.

At present, the bulk of apprenticeships are at Level 2, and employer support for current degree-level apprenticeships is small scale.

Wanting more higher level technical learning is good, but in 2012/13 there were 45,000 apprentices in customer services, and just under 14,000 in engineering, so employers who need technical skills will have to step up to the plate.”


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