Comment by Lord Baker, Chairman of The Baker Dearing Educational Trust
The report by Lord Forsyth for the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee is a landmark for the expansion of technical education and if it is taken seriously by the Government it should be as important as the Robbins Report was in the 1960s for the expansion of universities.
It identifies the mismatch between the skills provided by universities and the needs of the labour market. Many current graduates were put off technical qualifications where the skills shortages are – that has led to graduate unemployment and graduate under-employment.
There are severe skills shortages at the sub-degree Levels of 4 and 5. So far apprenticeships are not filling that gap – only 7% of apprentices are at the key ages of 16 and 18. Better career advice and technical education is needed in all our schools which should focus on Levels 4 and 5, just as much as universities.
Scrap shoddy apprenticeships, stop companies re-badging existing training, abandon the 3 million apprentices target – go for quality, not quantity.
Help students at FE colleges and at universities with means-tested maintenance grants. It is grossly unfair that the poorest students will end with the highest debts of £57,000.
The Committee visited the Aston Engineering University Technical College in Birmingham which this year will turn away 200-300 students as it is so popular.
The Committee members, including a former Head of the Civil Service and a former Head of the Treasury, met many students there who showed how determined they were to progress to Levels 4 and 5. Last year 80% of Aston UTC students went to technical universities taking mainly Level 5 degrees and 78% of those took a STEM subject – that is why many more University Technical Colleges are needed.