Budget move will offer technical students loans to help counter lack of EU workers
Students who opt for a technical education in order to develop specific workplace skills will be offered maintenance loans for the first time, under a new £500m-a-year plan to equip the British workforce for life after Brexit.
In his first budget on Wednesday, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, will acknowledge that the biggest challenge facing many businesses and the UK economy is the threat of skills shortages after the UK leaves the EU. In an attempt to tackle the crisis, which has left the UK near the bottom of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development rankings on training, the chancellor will say he wants to elevate technical education to the same status as an academic route through university, in what he will claim is “the most ambitious post-16 education reform since the introduction of A-levels 70 years ago”.
As well announcing that students on level 4-6 courses at national colleges and institutes of technology will be eligible for maintenance grants in the same way as those on academic courses, the amount of training for those on technical courses will be increased by more than 50% to more than 900 hours a year by 2019-20. This will include the completion of a high-quality industry work placement. Treasury sources said the current system, under which there are 13,000 technical qualifications, would be scrapped and replaced by 15 “world-class” routes tailored to the needs of business.
The Confederation of British Industry and college leaders welcomed the moves as vital, if overdue. Many UK businesses, concerned they will be unable to draw on skilled EU workers after Brexit, have called for the government to act. The former chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, warned this was the most important challenge facing the education system.
Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI director general, said employers and government had to work together: “There has never been a more important time to address the UK’s skills shortages. Investment in skills by employers and the government, working together in partnership, is the key to giving young people the opportunities they need to succeed.”
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “Post-Brexit Britain will need more self-sufficiency in developing skills and people will need the confidence, support and opportunities to adapt and change. This announcement is a good down-payment to help develop a new and better system over the next decade.We will be working with the government to help design that system and implement the changes needed. For too long, technical skills and education have been overlooked when investment in education is being considered; this announcement will make a significant and positive difference.”
Hammond is under heavy pressure to find extra funds for the NHS, social care and the schools system. Many Conservatives are looking to the budget for reassurance that spending on schools in their areas will not be cut.
Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governors’ Association (NGA), added her voice to those calling for more cash to be put into schools: “Governing boards are telling us loud and clear that balancing schools budgets has got to the point that pupils’ education will suffer. The NGA is calling on the chancellor to invest 3% more now for each pupil in England to avoid this outcome. Not to invest in schools is short-term thinking with long-term consequences.”
Lord Sainsbury, who chaired an inquiry last year into the reform of technical education, said: “News that the government is to commit significant investment to the development of technical education should be welcomed by everyone who cares about increasing national prosperity and improving social mobility.
“Targeted investment of this type makes economic sense – our international competitors recognised long ago that investing in technical education is essential to enhancing national productivity. But it is also essential if we are to equip people with the knowledge and skills they need to obtain rewarding and skilled employment in the future.
“The expert panel I chaired last year called for all young people following technical education programmes to have an entitlement to a high-quality work placement. We also called for increased levels of core funding to allow colleges to invest in their staff and facilities so that technical education in England could match the best in the world.”
Hammond, meanwhile, criticised people calling on him to launch a spending spree on the back of borrowing as “reckless”.
Writing in the Sunday Times, the chancellor insisted he would not take a “confused” approach to public finances and would keep chopping away at the deficit to get Britain fit to face Brexit.
“While we are making steady progress in eliminating the deficit, there are still some voices calling for massive borrowing to fund huge spending sprees. That approach is not only confused, it’s reckless, unsustainable and unfair on our young people who would be left to deal with the consequences.”
“As we begin our negotiations with the EU we are embarking on a new chapter in our history,” Hammond said. “We need to maintain our commitment to fiscal discipline and to strengthen our economic position as we forge our vision of Britain’s future in the world.”
By Toby Helm