Education reform White Paper is crucial for business

The White Paper on further education reform is a crucial step towards ensuring people have the skills needed for business to compete in the 21st century, the CBI said.

The government has laid out its “new economic mission for the Further Education (FE) sector”, saying colleges needed to be “the engines of social and economic growth, providing young people and adults with the right skills to meet the demands of our economy”.

The White Paper, Further Education: Raising Skills, Improving Life Chances, includes the government’s response to Sir Andrew Foster’s report last year on the future role of FE colleges.

Foster concluded the UK needed a “crystal clear” focus on skills to be able to compete in a global economy.

The White Paper offers a sweeping programme of reform for FE and includes provisions to drive up the quality of teaching, reward colleges for success and make the sector more responsive to the skills needs of individuals and employers.

The proposals include plans to attract “exceptional talent” from business and the public sector into senior college management as well as recruiting high flying graduates to work in the FE sector.

Headline reforms include:

· The introduction of free education for 19-25 year-olds studying for their first Level 3 qualification (two A-levels or equivalent)

· New Adult Learning Grants to help students with living costs

· A new £11m programme to encourage the recruitment and development of the FE workforce of the future

Education minister Ruth Kelly said: “For a modern, competitive and just economy our aspirations should be for all young people to be in education and training, for all adults to be able to continue gaining new and valuable skills and for all employers to see training as an essential investment in their workforces.”

Lord Leitch’s interim report of his review of the nation’s skills needs up to 2020 found that the UK lags behind its international competitors, ranked 24th out of 29 developed nations for the proportion of young people staying on in education or training after the age of 16.

The number of adults in the workforce without the skills needed to succeed in a modern economy is also high: the UK is ranked 17th out of 30 countries.

Sir Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, warned that employers looking for training were often thwarted by colleges unable to provide courses tailored to the needs of their employees.

“For the FE sector to deliver, all employers must be able to access bespoke training, delivered where and when best suits the needs of companies and their staff,” Jones said.

“The government should open up the sector to full competition and contestability to ensure that the provider which supplies courses to business is the best one available, regardless of whether it is public- or privately-run.”

The CBI’s Employment Trends Survey 2005 found that 76% of employers were satisfied or very satisfied with private providers compared to 46% with state providers.

Miles Templeman, director general of the IoD, added his support to the White Paper, saying the government was right to emphasise the importance of FE and to work to enhance its performance.



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