Recent statements by the UK Ministers for Education and for Universities (Gavin Williamson and Michelle Donelan) indicate that the UK government would like to see less students going into Higher Education and more going to Further Education. Talk of ‘tearing up’ the nominal government target of 50 per cent participation in higher education is good headline hunting. But there is a serious policy agenda in the works. The public is being prepared for this with talk about ‘low value’ courses in higher education (meaning disciplines at specific institutions where average graduate salaries are low), claims that many graduates are not working in ‘graduate jobs’, claims that high income earning qualifications in Further Education are being neglected and this is undermining national productivity, and talk about students entering higher education under-prepared. The last has negative implications for the widening participation agenda and the use of mechanisms such as contextualised admissions to ensure more socially equal access. It is likely the government will finally unveil its response to the May 2019 Augar review, where the issues include the balance between the sectors, the funding and the public standing of both Higher Education and Further Education, student support arrangements which disadvantage Further Education students, the regulation of credentials, and inter-sectoral student transfers. There is scope in the response to Augar to take a more tertiary approach, with planning and integration across the two post-school sectors, but it is not simple. They have different modes of governance, different funding sources, and grossly unequal social resources.
Will England finally create a more coordinated tertiary system? Is there such a thing as a fixed ‘graduate job’ and can this concept be used to calibrate policy? How will the government elevate Further Education in the eyes of families and employers? If it is going to spend money, will this be new money or resources taken from the Higher Education sector? How can we devise a collaborative approach to the two sectors instead of playing them off against each other? What would be a good policy here? What are the lessons, if any, for other countries, and what can England learn from vocational and technical education, and system design, from abroad and from the rest of the UK, including Wales which has established a tertiary system approach? These issues will be explored by our expert panel, with the worldwide participant audience at the webinar.