Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 55

Submission from Prospect


  1.  Prospect is a trade union representing 102,000 professionals, managers and specialists across the public and private sectors. Our members are professionals, managers and specialists across a diverse range of areas, including agriculture, defence, energy, environment, heritage, justice and transport.

  2.  We are concerned that the Government's decision to withdraw funding for Equivalent or Lower Qualifications (ELQs) will have a detrimental impact on our members and the organisations they work for.

  3.  Many of our members are degree qualified at the start of their careers but are required to update their qualifications as they move through their employment. They do this either to keep abreast of new technology and discoveries or to acquire new skills in leadership and management. Whilst these activities are important for personal development, they are not simply "nice to have". In many professions, and in particular those that are science and technology based, constant updating is essential to ensure continued proficiency. Individuals cannot rely on the currency of academic qualifications undertaken several or, in some cases—many—years ago.

  4.  For example Prospect has members, currently in their early 50s, who studied first degrees in engineering in the early 1970s. If they hadn't had the opportunity to study ELQs in the intervening years their knowledge of, for example, semiconductor devices would still be at the tail end of the valve era and at the early attempts to create integrated circuit chips of comparatively low complexity in today's terms. Technological change is continuing apace and the country's ability to produce a workforce capable of keeping up with these changes, and to manage programmes producing new innovations, will be adversely affected by the implementation of the decision to remove funding for ELQs.

  5.  In addition, our experience clearly demonstrates that an academic or professional qualification provides no guarantee of job security. Thousands of Prospect members are currently facing an uncertain or insecure future with their current employer. In these circumstances, they need to update their skills to ensure continued employability—either in their existing organisation or with a new employer. Institutions like the Open University provide our members with an ideal opportunity to study while remaining in full time employment, or to take short CPD courses between contracts to improve their employability. The majority of these courses will be at equal or lower levels to the degree they already possess in their core specialisation, but they are essential if individuals are to maintain their skill and knowledge levels in a rapidly changing environment.

  6.  We are also concerned about the equalities implications of the Government's decision. We believe that it will deter individuals—mostly women—who have taken a career break or have followed unconventional career paths from undertaking reskilling activities. It is notable that women constitute the majority of part-time learners, including those undertaking second degrees. It also ignores the circumstances of potential learners currently at a distance from the labour market or working in jobs below their potential. For example, many women are in part-time jobs that do not utilise their technical qualifications. They may well be at a stage in their lives where they have accumulated the personal confidence to take on a more challenging role but have no realistic prospect of accessing support for reskilling from their current employer.

  7.  If the Government proceeds with its proposals to withdraw funding, especially to institutions like the OU and Birkbeck College (which are very supportive of part time students combining work and study), this will act as a disincentive to organisations and individuals to follow these routes to development. This contradicts the Government's espoused commitment to lifelong learning and will militate against aspirations to reskill the nation's workforce and to develop a high skilled economy. Prospect therefore urges the Government to reconsider its position.

January 2008

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