House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
INNOVATION, UNIVERSITIES, SCIENCE
(INNOVATION, UNIVERSITIES, SCIENCE
on after leitch: implementing skills
DR DAVID COLLINS, DR MALCOLM McVICAR, PROFESSOR DAVID EASTWOOD and PROFESSOR DEIAN HOPKIN
and MR ALAN TUCKETT
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee
(Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Sub-Committee on After Leitch:
Implementing Skills and Training Policies)
Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair
Mr Tim Boswell
Mr Ian Cawsey
Dr Ian Gibson
Dr Evan Harris
Dr Brian Iddon
Mr Gordon Marsden
Dr Desmond Turner
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr David Collins, President of Association of Colleges and Principal of South Cheshire College; Dr Malcolm McVicar, Vice-Chancellor, University of Central Lancashire, representing Million+; Professor David Eastwood, Chief Executive, Higher Education Funding Council for England; and Professor Deian Hopkin, Vice-Chancellor, London South Bank University, representing Universities UK, gave evidence
Good morning to everyone and could I welcome
our first panel of witnesses this morning.
This is the fourth evidence session we have had in After Leitch:
Implementing Skills and Training Policies.
It is the last session before we have the Minister to respond to the
evidence so far. We are delighted to
have before us this morning Dr David Collins, the President of the Association
of Colleges and Principal of South Cheshire College - welcome to you,
David, and Dr Malcolm McVicar, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Central
Lancashire representing Million+ - welcome to you, Malcolm.
Dr Iddon: Why not!
Ian Stewart: Quite rightly!
Q279 Chairman: We have also got Professor David Eastwood, the Chief Executive of HEFCE - welcome to you David once again, and last, but by no means least, a regular visitor to the House, Professor Deian Hopkin, Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University, representing Universities UK. Welcome to you all. I wonder if I could start with you, Professor Eastwood. Lord Leitch said that without increased skills we would condemn ourselves to a lingering decline in competitiveness, diminishing economic growth and a bleaker future for all. Do you agree with his analysis that our skills deficit is so dire?
Professor Eastwood: We agree with Lord Leitch that the skills challenge is a very significant and serious one and we also agree with the central thrust of the Leitch analysis that policy now needs to be geared very much towards the next decade. We could have a discussion, and perhaps we will, around whether or not the 2020 targets are spot-on but from the point of view of the Funding Council there is no doubt that we need both to raise the level of skills at Level 4 and above and deliver higher education both in traditional and in novel ways to meet those challenges.
Q280 Chairman: We are looking specifically at Level 3 and 4 skills really and that link between FE and HE. Dr Collins, I have been in education all my life and it seems to be every ten years this comes up and somebody writes a report and says, "Woe is us; the world is coming to an end," and then ten years later we write another report that says, "Woe is us ..." Surely Leitch is just one of those, is it not, it is just a passing fancy?
Dr Collins: I think it has given an emphasis on the skills agenda and certainly we would not be arguing that more skills were not a good thing. Our problem is whether that will achieve the Leitch objectives of competitiveness and profitability, and I think there are serious questions over whether that link between skills and profitability is as tight as Leitch would suggest.
Q281 Chairman: Dr McVicar, are they the right targets? Leitch has done his analysis and there seems to be relative agreement on the analysis but are the targets he has set, which the Government of course have added to with the Level 3 target, the right ones?
Dr McVicar: I am not too
worried about the numerical targets but I think the direction of travel you are
going is really important. Leitch is
saying you have got to upskill the
Q282 Chairman: But you are delivering qualifications; you are not delivering skills.
Dr McVicar: You are
delivering both actually. For example,
we have opened up the first new dental school for 100 years in the
Q283 Chairman: Let me stick on this point, Professor Hopkin, on this business of whether qualifications equals skills. Do you buy into that?
Professor Hopkin: I do not think you can actually separate them. I also think you have to define what you mean by qualification - qualification for what? - and I think you also have to ask what is a skill?
Q284 Chairman: That is not what Leitch is talking about, he is talking about the skills needs of the nation, not the qualifications needs of the nation.
Professor Hopkin: Let me take you back to the beginning of your first question, Lord Leitch does not do anything we did not already know, and if you looked around the data and the evidence it has been pretty obvious for a long time, but he brings it all together into much sharper focus. That is what is important about it. Not so much that it is some kind of tablet from the mountain telling us what we should do but something that actually captures some of the real issues. One of the big issues is the pace of change in the economy globally and the way in which expectations of skills are changing. Indeed, what it does is try to bring into alignment those who provide education and training and those who require it the other side. Qualification is a measure, it is a way of demonstrating how far you have got. One of the problems we have had in the past is people who have got skills cannot demonstrate what those skills amount to. I think what we need to do with the qualifications framework is actually capture skills that people have got, maybe acquired in their workplace or whatever, and bring them together. Trying to make a formula out of it is probably much more difficult.
Q285 Chairman: Professor Eastwood, universities and to an even larger extent the FE sector will deliver whatever the Government says they have to deliver. If it is qualifications, they will deliver them. Whether in fact they actually upskill the nation and increase productivity is a by-product rather than the driving force, is it not?
Professor Eastwood: I think universities will deliver the priorities of the day and more, and I think the 'and more' is quite important. If you look at the way in which the Funding Council is responding to Leitch and if you look at the way in which the higher education sector is responding to Leitch, we are engaged in some important experiments around co-funding between HE and employers, around new kinds of relationship between HE and employers in programme design, but we are also working with employers around CPD, around short course provision, about upskilling in and around the workplace. Although I think the qualifications issue is an important one, and I think you are right to focus on that, that is certainly not the totality of what higher education is doing. We see a very real increase in CPD and other similar kinds of activities and that kind of interface with employers. That does of course have quite a swift feedback loop into the skill base of the workforce.
Q286 Chairman: David, you must answer this question: I am right, am I not?
Dr Collins: I think we
have been delivering skills within qualifications for probably 160 years in
Q287 Ian Stewart: In my own experience, there is a difference between some professors in making a distinction between education, training and skills. It was good to hear, Deian, your analysis and also the comments that you have just made, David, but does the school system with education and business skills separate not militate against the concept of bringing together education, skills and training?
Dr Collins: I do not think it does in the 16 to 19 market. I think we have got a good combination there of qualifications and skills through the BTECs and the NVQs that we deliver.
Professor Hopkin: You might expect me to be very positive on this because one of my roles is to champion the new 14 to 19 diplomas. I believe that we need to break down the boundary between academic and vocational descriptors because I think they are becoming increasingly irrelevant. You asked the question what do we do in institutions. 114 years ago my institution was founded in order to give people skills and qualification from the age of 16 upwards and has been operating in the borough - London South Bank nowadays - and the fact is the world has changed but the requirement to give people the opportunity to work within the economy, to demonstrate how they can do that is critical. The problem is that we partitioned people and we said you can do that over here, while somebody else can do this over here, and bringing them together is the best opportunity we have to become competitive; but that is a personal position.
Q288 Mr Boswell: A couple of points really prompted by the two Professors but maybe the others would want to join in. On David Eastwood's point, it is very good to hear him acknowledge the importance of CPD for example. Perhaps he can say a little bit more about the relationship between qualifications and the funding mechanism because clearly if you are doing CPD in a higher education institution which is paying for that, that is very different from if it is a classic student award formula or a post-graduate funding system. The second point, really picking up on what Deian said about the pace of change, is it not rather important to move away from what you might call a linear model where persons progressed, went through HE, slammed the door on it, forgot about it and went into their work, to a much more protean model where people are moving into HE when it suits them, maybe doing FE as a subqualification or as reinforcement of other skills and so forth? Perhaps members of the panel might like to open out on those two thoughts.
Professor Eastwood: I think what we are beginning to see is a new kind of flexibility, both flexibility in learning and reskilling and flexibility in funding. You are quite right to say that the bulk of the funding goes into the funding of more traditional kinds of programmes but I think I would argue that that has also built an infrastructure in higher education from which higher education can trade and CPD is delivered off some of those sorts of platforms, so there is an indirect funding relationship there. That said, I think it is appropriate with CPD that the employer bears a substantial proportion of the cost.
Q289 Mr Boswell: And sometimes the employee does.
Professor Eastwood: Sometimes the employee does and I think, in that context, what you are seeing is increased responsiveness on the parts of higher education institutions to the requirements of employers and to the requirements of employees. The other thing I would instance in terms of new kinds of flexibility is if you look at the advent of the foundation degree, the foundation degree is often seen as a stepping stone perhaps from a foundation degree to a qualification that then will then be topped up into a traditional degree, but we are now beginning to see some graduates doing foundation degrees, either investing themselves or with the support of their employers, because the foundation degree is the relevant qualification for the new kinds of skills that they wish to acquire at that stage.
Q290 Chairman: I am going to leave that because I think the comments you have made are broad. I want to get one or two questions in before I bring in my colleagues. Could I ask you specifically, Dr McVicar, are you confident that in terms of the targets at Level 4 which Leitch set and which the Government have accepted that you can deliver on those? Where are those students going to come from?
Dr McVicar: There is no shortage of potential students. I think the number of people who are currently at work, the majority of people who will need to be qualified by 2020 are already in the workforce. The potential demand there for upskilling, changing skills and changing direction is tremendous. You have to deliver that on a more flexible part-time basis. The demand is there. The changes in the economy of which we are all aware make individuals very concerned about their future qualifications and their future employability, so I think individuals are concerned about making sure they have got the right skills and qualifications for the future.
Q291 Chairman: Where is the evidence for that?
Dr McVicar: If you talk to people, if you interact with groups of employees, they are concerned. There is a distinction between individuals thinking about their own careers and their own security of employment and employers and their needs. The two do not always go together because individuals might think, "I have got another 20 years ..."
Q292 Chairman: With the greatest respect - which means I do not agree - where is the evidence because Leitch did not provide any evidence that individuals were actually banging on your door and on the door of the universities and colleges saying, "I want to be upskilled"?
Dr McVicar: We have a large number of part-time students who come every year for that reason. I can only talk for my university obviously, I cannot talk for the whole sector but there no shortage.
Q293 Chairman: But you have to increase it exponentially beyond that between now and 2020.
Dr McVicar: I think the real challenge is how do you provide funding for that, who is going to pay, who is in the driving seat and how do we meet the demands from individuals and from employers.
Q294 Chairman: Employers are going to pay.
Dr McVicar: I think you can expect employers to make a contribution. It has not always been easy in the past to extract funding from employers.
Q295 Chairman: David, this is fantasy land is it not, employers have never banged down the doors of universities or FE colleges with cheque books?
Dr Collins: Can I make a point in relation to FE.
Q296 Chairman: I am coming to you, you are not left out, but just in terms of that model, where is the evidence that there are these extra students because it is the extra students rather than the ones that are in the system. Where is the evidence that employers are going to fund them?
Professor Eastwood: 15 months ago we were given what was widely thought to be a hospital pass, that is to say we were to develop employer co-funded provision and the target was that there would be some 20,00 students on employer co-funded programmes by 2010-11. Not only are we on target to reach that, we are on target probably to exceed that. We have got some 34 higher education institutions engaged in programmes so far. The average level of co-funding is some 30 per cent of the cost of the programme, so we have moved quite a long way in a short period of time. Where what we have is high-quality provision delivered flexibly in a way which employers see as bespoke and relevant, there is demand from employers. I think we can parallel that by an increasing emphasis, if you take for example foundation degrees, we have moved from zero to over 70,000 learners on foundation degree programmes in a period of just over five years.
Q297 Chairman: So you are confident, David, of reaching the Leitch target by 2020?
Professor Eastwood: I am confident that if we have the right kind of programmes there is genuine demand in the workplace. But, going back to one of your earlier questions Chairman, I do think, as we develop our response, we need to think carefully about where qualifications are relevant and where other forms of engagement in higher education are relevant. One of the attractions of qualifications is that they enable us to measure and to set targets, but I think all of us in higher education know that for many learners the qualification does matter; but for some others and for some other forms of engagement a CPD model, a more flexible model is appropriate to their skills.
Q298 Chairman: What changes have you actually seen in the FE sector that have been as a result of the Leitch inquiry and the Government acceptance of the Leitch targets?
Dr Collins: I think you could probably say that the number of skills being followed by adults in total has gone down because essentially the Train to Gain focus on employer-led provision, which has not been fully taken up in the sense that there is more money unspent in that budget each year than has been allocated to it, has been at the cost of individuals themselves pursuing qualifications outside of their employer-driven framework. We had a period of considerable growth in adult numbers supported by government funding on capital between 1993 and the Leitch Train to Gain changes. Since then, I believe that you will find that the totality of skills provision has probably diminished.
Chairman: We are going to follow that up later but we will come on to Ian Gibson.
Q299 Dr Gibson: There are several phrases that are often run around in higher education and in many other parts of the world. For example, on Radio Four you will hear every second person going forward in their speech. This phrase 'going forward' suddenly emerged from some kind of courses they went on. 'Polyclinics' is also a word that is used and it really debases the argument about what is trying to be done. Is not 'demand led' the same kind of thing? What does demand led mean, for goodness' sake?
Dr McVicar: If I could answer that, I think it means what you want it to mean!
Q300 Dr Gibson: It is Radio Four material!
Dr McVicar: I think it is Radio Four material. The argument that higher education and further education have not been demand-led is fallacious. We respond to demand and if we did not supply courses that people want to come on, we cannot run those courses and eventually we go bankrupt. I think it is whose demand are we responding to. We have to respond to students' demands, and increasingly students of course are significant contributors to the cost of their higher education. You also have to be able to respond to employer demand as well so I think there are lots of different demands. There is not a simplistic demand-led model.
Q301 Dr Gibson: I have always believed that education in this country is about jobs. That is the basic Marxist philosophy. You can have all kinds of education at all levels and at the end of the day it is the employers who control the planet who want the employees educated in their interests. Is that what Leitch is all about? Is the demand coming from employers in both further and higher education?
Dr McVicar: Chairman, I do not think it can just be that model for Leitch because, in my experience, employer-demand is very important but it tends to be medium term, and individuals, as I said earlier, have got decades. The people qualifying and leaving university now to work have to think about their qualifications long term, not just in the next five years. Somehow we have to make sure that the individuals are flexible but for example a couple of years ago if we were trying to meet the demand for the economy in 2008, who would have predicted the economy would be in the shape it is now, how would you predict what has happened in the construction industry or the house-building industry or whatever. It is very, very difficult to hit a short-term target in terms of the economy. You have to take a longer term view than that and that is why flexibility is crucial.
Professor Hopkin: I think there is an issue about latent demand as well. You asked the question are these people actually out there knocking on the door? I have to say many of them do not realise they ought to be knocking on the door or maybe they are not prepared to be in a position in order to do that. I think one of the problems we have comes much earlier than universities. If we do not get the business right much earlier on, we will not have a business, and so therefore we need to be looking at raising aspirations amongst young people and particularly explaining to them that this is something for them and not for somebody else. Far too many of our young people are switched off and that is why things like Aimhigher are trying to raise participation, particularly in communities where there is no great tradition of this. I think if you do all of that maybe then you will get nearer the target.
Q302 Dr Gibson: Then you could argue that the demand would be a consortium between people at different levels of education working together in partnership to excite and enthuse people either through university for university's sake, just to learn, or for a job, as the case may be.
Professor Hopkin: I am tempted to say that is what we have been trying to do for the last 100 years.
Q303 Dr Gibson: I always knew you were a Left-winger really!
Professor Hopkin: Gosh!
Q304 Ian Stewart: I am with Ian Gibson on this education/jobs analysis point. We as politicians have to look at helping to create decent jobs, which is not necessarily your area of responsibility. Leitch tries to promote the concept of partnership, and on each occasion that I have been asking questions to panels on the Leitch Report I have asked them what has been left out. For example, if the Leitch Report proposes partnership between government, individuals and employers, where do education providers fit into that? In your opinion, why are trade unions not mentioned anywhere in the literature?
Dr Collins: I think the educationalists have a considerable role to play in helping employers to define their needs to start with, and we have certainly found that employers are not able automatically to assess their needs demands without some assistance from outside. I also would like to make the point that if you want to increase demand for education and training and link it more closely to jobs, maybe you should go so far as making it a right for employees to access training, certainly up to Level 2, rather than being able to request it as they are at the moment. If indeed the argument is true that more skills equals more productivity equals more profit then employers should welcome that right because it should be adding to their bottom line. My view is that there are various ways in which we can help employers see the value of what training means for them and also to help them assess the training needs that they have got.
Q305 Ian Stewart: David, when you put that analysis forward, we now know that there will be significantly fewer unskilled jobs in this country in the future?
Dr Collins: Yes.
Q306 Ian Stewart: Is there not a role therefore between further and higher education and directly with workers, not just leaving it to the employers?
Dr Collins: I could not agree more.
Q307 Ian Stewart: Because workers perhaps do not understand that they will not have the jobs that they are doing currently.
Dr Collins: I could not agree more. I think the problem at the moment is that the funding has swung rather too far towards the employers determining what is available.
Ian Stewart: That is what I wanted to hear.
Mr Marsden: Malcolm, I wonder if I could come back to what you said about whose demands because of course very few people want to be tagged with the image of some Marxist - sorry Ian - monolith imposing targets from below ---
Ian Stewart: You cannot call him a monolith!
Q308 Mr Marsden: But the fact of the matter is that particularly for universities like your own and other universities in the North West of which I am aware there is an element of dependence on 'plan and provide' in terms of government spending. You have mentioned the dental school for example. You do a lot of other important stuff in terms of health workers and health degrees. How does that push/pull factor affect you? Is it something that affects individual universities or across region?
Dr McVicar: I think if you are talking about the relationship between higher education and the NHS as a monopoly purchaser of a significant proportion of our output - I think our NHS contract is about 20 or 25 per cent of our total university - it is very important, with a large number of people joining the workforce in the National Health Service and other social care agencies, and that is a part of our provision where there is a very, very close relationship between the employer and the provider. As you will know, it has not always been an easy relationship because you have a workforce planning model which is difficult to sustain in a changing environment but that has also been subject to short-term changes because of financial cutbacks which in the end were not necessary. That did cause tremendous destabilisation and job losses and the curtailment of capacity, which we know will have an adverse impact in five years' time. Although that model is very important and the Government through the NHS is buying considerable capacity and supporting those students, it is a model where you do have to be quite careful to protect it and not let it be affected by short-term factors. If you have a whole sector which is dependent on that sort of monopoly or a series of large-scale oligopolistic purchasers, it could be very destabilised.
Q309 Mr Marsden: So the answer is just to accept that these things will happen from time to time in government and spread the different pots in your basket?
Dr McVicar: You certainly have to diversify.
Professor Hopkin: I was going to say, I think universities have become a mixed economy
in a far greater way than they were in the past. Certainly, I have to confess I have been 41
years in higher education and I have seen it all and the cycles come and
go. What has changed has been the
responsiveness of universities which are far more responsive now in recognising
that policy will change, things will happen, and you will come across things that
you do not expect. What you have to do
is to build an enterprise which enables you to respond in different ways. That is why the universities are so keen on
for example lifelong learning because that is potentially a far more
sustainable business in many respects than depending on core 14 to 18 year olds
which will be diminishing in the next 10 years. We are very aware.
Q310 Mr Marsden: Can I come quickly to you, David Eastwood, because again a crucial question is about how much the HE system is going to be able to deliver responsively to the level of workplace skills. We have got Malcolm there representing a lot of the universities that are already very well engaged in that sector, but I think it is fair to say that others are not - or at least not yet. What is your responsibility as HEFCE to knock a few heads around and make sure that universities who are not knocking on the doors of employers and who are not operating within their region and sub-regional factors actually do so?
Professor Eastwood: We see employer engagement as operating across a broad front. I think that is important. Our latest survey of income to the sector from employers suggests that £1.5 billion has come into the sector in 2005-06 from employer-related activities. That can be CPD, it can be knowledge transfer, it can be short course provision.
Q311 Chairman: Is that an additional 1.5 billion or is that 1.5 billion in total?
Professor Eastwood: That is 1.5 billion in total from business, as it were, buying services, knowledge, partnerships with universities.
Q312 Mr Boswell: Including increasingly SMEs or not?
Professor Eastwood: Including increasing engagement with SMEs. Obviously there is a lag there and there is a challenge there.
Q313 Chairman: It would be good if you could let us have a note just to say what that trend is.
Professor Eastwood: We have trend data going back to the beginning of the century and we will happily give that. I make the response in answer to Mr Marsden's question because I think we do see different universities having different kinds of engagement and that is quite important, not least in terms of what you might describe as market-making and that where universities are offering knowledge transfer, where they are offering CPD and where they are offering co-funded programmes, they are developing a different and much more wide-ranging engagement with employers and that I think is starting to unlock new kinds of demand and a new kind of understanding of what HE can deliver to employers and also what HE needs to deliver given the employer demand.
Q314 Mr Marsden: I understand that you are moving on to be Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham University in due course. Which of those models do you think are going to be applicable to Birmingham?
Professor Eastwood: All of my waking hours and some of my sleeping hours are currently devoted to the Higher Education Funding Council. I will happily share my thoughts in due course.
Chairman: I think that is a very diplomatic answer. Back to you Dr Gibson.
Q315 Dr Gibson: Can I return to financial support. I find it rather ironic because when I argued with my old sparring partner David on the issue of top-up fees, I argued vehemently that industry should be putting money into universities instead of charging students exorbitant debts to carry throughout their lives, and I suspect we will return to that issue in a few years again. I just wondered what evidence you really do have that industry - the pharmaceutical industry for example - is prepared to put money into courses, laboratories and so on rather than giving money for consultancies, undeclared consultancies I might add, just as an aside, by academics, it does not appear in the register of interests like the very honest MPs that are around this table.
Professor Eastwood: I would offer two thoughts. One is the evidence from the development of co-funded programmes. We are on course to meet or exceed the 20,000 target and we are getting an average of at least 30 per cent employer co-funding, so that is real money and that is real investment and that sits alongside the shift as a result of fees back in 2006. I think the other thing which is interesting and is sometimes forgotten in the debate about the investment that employers make is that they still pay a premium for graduates, in the case of the industries to which you refer a very substantial premium; and we could see that too if we were thinking about the premia for mathematicians in the City. Employers clearly place a high market value on graduates who for other purposes might look like very traditional graduates - mathematicians, physicists and so forth. I think we see abundant evidence, in employers' willingness to co-fund and in the premia they are prepared to pay for graduates, that they are making a contribution to the overall cost of delivering higher education.
Q316 Dr Gibson: Professor Hopkin, do you see that picture emerging in your 41 years of sweat and toil at the coalface?
Professor Hopkin: I am glad you put it that way.
Q317 Chairman: Surely you began as a ten year old?
Professor Hopkin: You are very kind! I think we are on a your journey here, if I can take another Radio Four phrase. I do not think we know the answer, to be absolutely frank. What we have to do is really test the market with some real propositions. Very often there is a strange lack of synchronism between employers spending a lot of money retraining people and what they are prepared to pay upfront. I think part of the equation is to actually help employers understand that if they take part in developing the curriculum - and by the way none of us is saying that this is a one-size-fits-all, it has to be a much more diverse educational system to respond to different needs - employers might actually see some very great advantage if they are able to diminish some of the later costs of retraining and the rest of it in the early stages if they get people who are prepared better at the point at which they arrive. That said, I think employers also have to understand that this is not something which stops after they employ someone; it continues. I think helping employers to understand what their future training needs are going to be rather than simply reacting to what their present day needs are is something that universities do particularly well. That is what we are engaged in. That is what you have been engaged in, Dr Gibson, yourself in the past, looking forward and trying to anticipate. I think we can help employers in that respect.
Q318 Dr Gibson: Have you an estimate of how much money might be contributed by industry? Have you an El Dorado figure or a guestimate of what could come in if everything went right? Are we talking billions, millions or what? You named some figures; could that be improved?
Professor Eastwood: The contribution from businesses will continue to grow and all the trend data suggests that it will continue to grow. I think though you ask a challenging question. Certainly our view, if you look at for example co-funded provision, what we are investing in we believe is of high quality, relevant and sustainable. How scaleable this is, I think is a question that we will not have a strong answer to probably for another 18 to 24 months.
Q319 Dr Gibson: Lastly, in terms of other countries and what they are doing, is there anything we can learn from any country or countries to reach the 40 per cent target that Leitch has pointed out for Level 4. Could we learn from America, Estonia?
Professor Eastwood: I think one of the things we could learn and are learning from
Q320 Dr Turner: In the best British traditions we like to make things fairly complex and we have an increasingly complex pattern of qualifications available which may or may not be terribly relevant. I would just like to know what your view is from your different perspectives and whether you think we have now made the present system of qualifications for skills and training too complicated?
Dr Collins: I think there are something like 22,000 qualifications at the moment on offer and hopefully the UK Commission on Education Employment and Skills will begin to simplify that framework and make them more relevant. What is important to our sector is that the credit-based accumulation system is brought in so that people can acquire qualifications in smaller chunks over a period of time and that in my view at the moment seems to be painfully slow in progress. If we do want to get people involved, they do not always want to sign up for a very long qualification, they want to get them in in suitable steps and indeed employers are much more interested in buying chunks than whole qualifications from my experience
Dr McVicar: The answer to your question is yes. It is not just the qualifications framework which is quite complex, it is also the structural arrangements for delivering the skills; they are over-complex as well.
Q321 Dr Turner: I was coming to that!
Professor Eastwood: Can I make two comments. The first is that I think there is a challenge to higher education in how we describe students' achievements and I think here the work of the Burgess Group is important, looking for a way of using transcripts or other kind of reporting mechanism to capture the range of skills and qualities that students have. That is an interface between HE and employers, and indeed graduates themselves, that we can and should enhance. How we describe the qualifications is important. Also we are embarked on a process, at Level 2, Level 3 and at Level 4 and above of bringing some clarity to the landscape that you describe and I think we are all signed up to do that.
Q322 Dr Gibson: I would agree that the American system of assessment of students is better than the silly First, 2:1, 2:2, Third and Fail classifications, which I have always been against and as somebody who marked thousands of papers, I could not tell the difference between 68 per cent and 70 but this is the first time I have ever been honest about it!
Professor Eastwood: What I am doing is putting some flesh on the bones of a comment that Deian made about the kinds of skills that students acquire. We need to have ways of making sure that they are clear about the skills that they have achieved at the end of their programme and that employers are. It is clear at the moment that employers value the current system of degree classification so, as Burgess said, there is no incompatibility between retaining degree classification and developing a richer methodology for describing student skills.
Dr Gibson: But are teachers in higher education and further education trained to mark examination scripts? I never was, ever, you are just thrown into the job and you are expected to know it; it kind of accumulates around you.
Q323 Chairman: These are revelations which are coming out; it is a good job nobody is listening! Deian, do you want to comment very, very briefly?
Professor Hopkin: Avoiding the temptation to go for 69 in between 68 and 70, which we usually did, the reality is that we need two things to meet the complexity. It is very likely that we need to decomplexify - if I can use another phrase - but more importantly I think we need to ensure proper progression from different qualifications so that people are not locked into cul-de-sacs. Secondly, that then requires very robust advice and guidance. I think that is the critical requirement in all this. No matter what system you have, if you cannot give the right advice to the right people to go on the right course, then you really are sunk. I think we have to invest far far more in giving advice not simply to young people but I think particularly to adults.
Q324 Dr Turner: Who is there out there to give that advice? I certainly do not think it is available in schools and colleges through careers advisers, unless they have come on in leaps and bounds.
Dr Collins: I need to
correct you there. Certainly colleges
will have careers advisers in them who are professionally trained careers
people. For the adult
Q325 Dr Turner: We not only have a complex picture of different qualifications but we are getting an increasingly complicated structure to manage the whole system. The Learning and Skills Council is going to be replaced by the Skills Funding Agency which will not be a single entity; there are four bits of it. Do you see any advantage in this?
Dr McVicar: I cannot comment on the transfer from the LSC to the Skills Funding Agency. I think the whole pattern of the structure of delivering the skills agenda is over complex. If you sit down and try to map it, it is very difficult. I regard myself as reasonably intelligent and I find the whole plethora of bodies which is delivering the skills agenda almost incomprehensible.
Q326 Dr Turner: Will you honestly know to whom you are accountable?
Dr McVicar: I am accountable to David!
Q327 Chairman: You are accountable to the LSC.
Dr Collins: There is a general view at the moment that the new arrangements are either a pig's ear or a dog's breakfast and need to be sorted out with a degree of operational clarity to make sure that we do not lose the progress that the Learning and Skills Council has made over the last six or seven years.
Q328 Dr Turner: Would you say that we are repeating a particularly British administrative mistake which we do over and over again with different institutions - and it is FE and HE's turn for it - of we carry out a great reform, set up an organisation and ten years later come along and say, "Let's do it all over again," and we repeat the same mistakes over and over again?
Dr Collins: I think the interesting thing is that in the White Paper the Learning and Skills Council is accredited with considerable progress and being a great success, so it does seem rather strange to be taking it apart at this time.
Professor Eastwood: In terms of higher education, we are not seeing that kind of perturbation at the moment. The Higher Education Funding Council has in effect has been here since 1919 in one form or another. I think that kind of stability has real advantage, just as the fact that the majority of our funding reaches institutions as block grant gives them real flexibility. I think one of the things that is transparently valuable in higher education is the block grant and reasonable stability of funding to institutions so they themselves can be responsive, because in many cases it is higher education institutions themselves who are best-placed to make those sorts of judgments.
Q329 Dr Turner: How useful do you think the RDAs are going to be in this structure? Do you feel they are equipped to take on a role in skills partnerships?
Dr Collins: They are probably in a better position than subregional partnerships of local authorities. At the moment the LSC has gone down a regional structure which is beginning to work and, arguably, the helicopter view of the RDAs is more likely to produce sensible policies on skills development for an area than small sub-groupings of local authorities.
Q330 Dr Turner: Do you think they have the knowledge base within them?
Dr Collins: I think they will have to acquire that knowledge base because I think there is going to be quite a gap in the market when the LSC disappears.
Q331 Dr Turner: So there could be quite a long period before the new system, for want of a better description, starts to function well?
Dr Collins: I think it is ambitious that it is actually going to be functioning fully by 2010.
Dr McVicar: From a higher education perspective, I think RDAs can be useful allies but universities do not operate just in a region, they are national and international, and I certainly would not want RDAs to have any role terms of funding or planning. I think that would be entirely inappropriate. I would like to echo David's point, the funding regime that operates through HEFCE is entirely appropriate for the future of higher education and, arguably, would be appropriate for FE as well, if I may say so.
Q332 Chairman: So you would have a single funding?
Dr McVicar: I certainly would.
Q333 Dr Turner: How do you relate to the sector skills councils because they almost cut across the new structure? Do you think there are too many representative bodies for employers?
Professor Hopkin: Can I first of all declare an interest as a member of the Sector and Skills Council Skills for Health but also the LSC as well by the way, and that is why I was very quiet! I think the sector skills councils have built up a very strong and developing partnership, not only individual ones but collectively with universities, through partnership with Universities UK. We recognise the need to work with consortia, particularly where in some cases they represent very important areas like e-skills, creative and media, where we need to understand what the industry is looking to in the future, and so for us the sector and skills councils in recent years, particularly in the last couple of years, have been an asset in our forward thinking. That said, like my colleagues, we are very concerned that we do not get destabilisation of the system when different organisations are created so we have to gear ourselves up always to meet the turbulence of organisational change.
Q334 Dr Turner: Is part of that turbulence and churning that can occur related to the funding structures?
Professor Hopkin: We are very content with the way in which the funding structure works for us.
Q335 Dr Turner: Universities maybe but you are not the only part of the structure.
Professor Hopkin: As I said earlier, I think we have learned to develop economies which do not depend on one stream or another. We have to be much more responsive. That is why we work with regional, local and national government inter alia.
Chairman: I am going to move on, Des, because I am very tight on time. Tim?
Mr Boswell: I think the members who are giving us helpful evidence will be aware that I have a certain history in both FE and HE, and we seem to be parading our radical criteria and qualifications at the moment.
Ian Stewart: A Marxist Conservative!
Q336 Mr Boswell: I did not go that far but do not press me! As you look across this - and we have already had some helpful input from David - how are the structures within this room, as it were, FE and HE, going to have a change to reach the Leitch agenda? There could be a tendency to stuff it all off onto UKCES or somebody else and say they have to sort it out, but bilaterally and, as it were, representationally how are we going to get these two major interests to work more closely together?
Dr Collins: The college sector is working very closely with many universities at the moment on foundation degrees and franchise work, et cetera, so certainly over the last five or six years there has been a coming together of work at Level 4 in most areas.
Dr McVicar: We certainly have a very large partnership network with a range of further education colleges and the university. That partnership based on collaboration works well. What would not work well is if there was an encouragement to competition between FE and HE, I think that would be negative and dysfunctional.
Q337 Mr Boswell: When you say collaboration do you mean self-generated collaboration rather than imposed planning?
Dr McVicar: It is certainly self-generated. It works on the business of the two networks of institutions working together; that is not planned or imposed, it is self-generated.
Professor Eastwood: We are currently taking forward a new approach to HE/FE collaboration which is to invite FE colleges that deliver higher education to have strategic statements which capture the kinds of collaborations that they have and the kinds of progression arrangements that they have developed.
Q338 Mr Boswell: When you say available, will there be some kind of inducement or mechanism?
Professor Eastwood: We will fund HE in FE Colleges where they have those strategic statements. The other thing which is quite interesting on the way in which collaboration develops is we have funded an employer engagement initiative at Harper Adams University College which has some 30 partners (other HEIs and a large number of FE partners) and I think that demonstrates the way in which the divisions between higher and further education, which have been unhelpful in the past, have started to blur.
Professor Hopkin: There is a very quick point on partnership which we may be in danger
of missing. Leitch is about the
Q339 Mr Boswell: Just really picking up David's point: one funding agency in the future? What is the point of more than one, bearing in mind also that of course there is a separate stream now for pre-19 funding which is going to be assigned? Is there a tidy way of dealing with this or is there some justification for plurality?
Dr Collins: What we would prefer in FE, in the same way as HE has, is the ability locally to interpret the needs of the area and to be able to respond to them without being put under artificial constraints. We do feel at the moment constrained by some of the particular funding streams such as Train to Gain for not being able to move into other areas where there is demand. We are not forgetting that skills are very important to the economy and upskilling the nation, but they are also important to social cohesion and mobility and equality of opportunities, and some of those elements have been a little bit lost in the discussion about skills and moving the employer needs forward.
Q340 Dr Iddon: Is not the consequence, gentlemen, of having a single funding council that you have to look at whether FE students should receive grants as do HE students and would not the staff in FE colleges want to be on the same salary spine as staff in HE? Can any government of whatever political complexion afford that?
Dr McVicar: Although FE and HE need to work together to collaborate, they are different sectors, and I think you need two funding councils. I entirely understand what David is saying and I sympathise with him. I think the current system works well in higher education. The role of HEFCE is very important. Some of the initiatives like the co-funding with employers have been very successful and I would not want that to change, and there is a danger ---
Q341 Chairman: Because you get significantly more money than FE.
Dr Collins: You might have something called the Further Education Funding Council, for example!
Q342 Dr Iddon: David, what is your view on this? Would you welcome the route that some people like David Collins and others want to take?
Professor Eastwood: I think I am in a similar position to Malcolm that there are two sectors and we need to encourage real collaboration between those two sectors. I think higher education does benefit from stability, but if you look at the range of what the Higher Education Funding Council does we have only been talking this morning about one aspect of our responsibility and one aspect of our funding, and we could talk about skills at a much higher level, we could talk about post-graduate funding, we could talk about research funding and so forth. We do have to look at fitness for purpose in the way in which we determine our funding and regulatory bodies, but I think we do need, given the challenges of the agendas we face going forward, structures which give stability, which give reasonable predictability of funding, and which ensure that we can be responsive not just to the needs of today but the needs of the day after tomorrow, and I think there are areas in the funding landscape which are probably too unstable at the moment.
Q343 Dr Iddon: I am opening a 14-19 year old sixth form college which is an amalgamation of a sixth form college and 14 to 19 training this Friday in my constituency. Do you think the HE sector is catching up with the changes down at pre-19 level?
Professor Hopkin: I have spent half my life on this - outside of running my institution, I should stress - because I think it is critical. I think the 14 to 19 agenda is the one way we have (and earlier by the way) to unlock that lost talent from all those people we are not retained in the system, and if we can stimulate people who just do not want to carry on after 16, that will help to meet some of the targets that we have talked about. Universities are very, very engaged and over 100 universities have now said they will accept the 14-19 Diploma as a qualification. There are universities involved in all 17 lines of learning. In fact, many of us are very actively involved in helping to raise the game. What we really want, however, to come back to the big issue, is to get employers to understand the importance of all of this so we have a real partnership at work and sometimes one does wonder whether their voice is loud enough in support of the great work that is going on in education.
Q344 Mr Marsden: David Eastwood, Burgess has been mentioned, the need for a proper credit framework, accumulation, and all the rest of it, and various people have talked about moving forward, if I can use that term, but we are not moving forward fast enough, are we? In terms of the recirculation between FE and HE - which has been described, I think rightly, as you do a course and shut the door - you are still not beyond the lower slopes, are you?
Professor Eastwood: We are changing the way in which we fund teaching from 2009-10 to give more flexibility around the funding of credits and flexible learning, so there is a funding response coming into the system very swiftly. I think the sector is making very substantial progress around credit transfer arrangements, and I think it is axiomatic that we continue to move forward as quickly as we can; I share your concern.
Q345 Mr Marsden: Deian, do you see that up-lift for you in your neck of the woods for you and in Universities UK generally?
Professor Hopkin: I think there is every prospect of improving the quality and level of educational attainment in this country if we look more radically at what we are doing. What I think the university sector has been doing in recent years particularly, as we become more sensitive to the changing economy, is to recognise that unless we actually work in partnership with schools and employers, we will not create the market for our own business in the future, and I think that is why we take it so seriously.
Q346 Mr Marsden: What about the people who are left out in the gaps? What about the women returners who want to return to education? What about the people with disabilities who want to carry on? You - and when I say you I am talking about universities as a whole not your institution - are doing very little for them at the moment, are you?
Professor Hopkin: I do not think I would agree entirely with that. If you look at the proportion of people with disability coming into higher education, that has increased tremendously. The proportion of women, for example, in programmes such as Working for Women which is coming into engineering, and the London Engineering Programme is looking specifically at that. I agree we need to do a great deal more but that is moving into an area where traditionally we may not have been ---
Q347 Mr Marsden: Okay, but do you agree with me that you need more flexible and portable structures to address those groups of people?
Professor Hopkin: I think we all recognise the model itself needs to be looked at in order to respond to very different markets. Not everybody will want to come to a nine to five lecture-based environment. We will have to respond and we will.
Dr McVicar: The part of the sector that I am representing this morning, the million plus institutions are right at the forefront of this and that model of nine to five is not one that we would recognise.
Q348 Mr Cawsey: I want to go particularly to you, David, although if the other people want to chip in please feel free to do so. David, we have heard a few comments this morning about your views on the way some of this is going but how do you think the sector is coping with Train to Gain and how do you think it needs to change to make it work for employers, for colleges and for the wider skills agenda?
Dr Collins: I think we are working very hard to make it work. There is a question though about whether the demand is there for training at this stage in the economic cycle from SMEs and although getting big employers on track is not too difficult, it is those smaller employers employing five, six or seven people that at the present time are really not as interested in training as they might otherwise be, so it is a challenge. I think my main concern is if the money for Train to Gain is not spent, there are other demands in the adult sector that could be met from that money. At the moment the mechanisms are not there for the transferability that I would like to see.
Q349 Mr Cawsey: So where would you like to see it transferred to?
Dr Collins: I would like
to see it going back into adult responsiveness growth for individuals who want
to develop their careers or develop other skills outside of their immediate
employment prospects. I would like to give the colleges the freedom to spend
that money where it will make best impact in the local community, and that may
be for more social cohesion, the development of
Q350 Mr Cawsey: Are you saying that just because of where the economy has ended up at this point in time or do you think that is how it should be anyway?
Dr Collins: I think it should be like that anyway. I think the pendulum has swung a little too far towards the employer-driven agenda because the employers do not always know what they want and, similarly, as I said at the very beginning, if you look at the relationship between improving skills and productivity and profitability, you really are forgetting about the importance of credit, the importance of capital investment, of technological advancement and all of those impacts. Skills are important but they are not the be all and end all and in some ways the Leitch Report almost gives the impression: sort the skills out and the economy will be wonderful and we will be greatly successful. You can see from what is happening at the moment. Nobody is saying that our current downturn or potential downturn is because the skills are not there; there are lots of other factors at play.
Q351 Mr Cawsey: Although you need the skills to attract inward investment sometimes?
Dr Collins: You do and I am very much in favour of the skills agenda and pushing it forward. I am saying though we should be cautious about the impact that that is going to have on profitability.
Q352 Mr Cawsey: Given the fact that companies may be where they are at the moment, who is going to train the programme-led apprentices and how is that going to be developed?
Dr Collins: I think colleges are fairly heavily involved in this at the moment and indeed in many areas the skills that are being developed in catering or engineering or motor vehicle work, et cetera, and construction perhaps in particular, can be developed and delivered in a college environment. Indeed, an area such as construction would not actually want to put somebody out on a site unless they had had a significant amount of training in health and safety and basic skills, so I think there is a role for colleges in programme-led apprenticeships.
Q353 Mr Cawsey: But when you get a time when industry - construction being a good example - is going through a very poor period and therefore is unlikely to be thinking about take-up of apprenticeships, frankly, do you think that the programme-led approach should be expanded at a time like this?
Dr Collins: I think it will need to be because if we are going to have increasing unemployment or decreasing employability then that is going to be very important.
Professor Hopkin: I think Train to Gain has improved tremendously in some regions in
the last year.
Q354 Mr Cawsey: Does anybody think that the brokership for apprenticeships and Train to Gain should be separate? In other words, should they be brought into one set of brokers?
Dr Collins: We find in
further education that brokers are not having the impact that perhaps was
envisaged for them in the original proposals, and indeed most of the leads that
we have for Train to Gain are ones that we have generated ourselves. The question is whether that money is money
best spent in that way. My suggestion,
as I think I said earlier, was perhaps developing the adult
Q355 Mr Cawsey: Somebody described it as a complete shambles and a waste of public money.
Dr Collins: It was not me!
Q356 Mr Cawsey: But you would recognise that description?
Dr Collins: I would recognise that description.
Q357 Mr Cawsey: What was the experience of FE in working with the Sector and Skills Councils of qualifications reform development and what concerns do you have about this programme?
Dr Collins: I think it is beginning to work quite well. The AoC has a number of skills champions that mirror the sector skills councils and are working closely with them. I think you do need that combination of the deliverers with the people who are designing the qualifications to make sure that what they are coming up with is going to be operationally sound. I think that is working very well. I have got great hopes for the Sector Skills Council and the UK Commission in sorting out what is a little bit of a mess.
Professor Hopkin: I think the future is something that we are all trying to move forward to, as they say. I think the reality is that we do not have a barometer which tells us what is coming up and this last six months in the construction industry is an example of that. I think the answer is to respond in a very positive way at a time when things look hard. Now is the time to take on apprenticeships for example in universities. Many of us are looking at apprenticeship systems for higher education in the services we have. We also have an opportunity to bring in people from industry to help train. One of the problems we have had is getting enough trainers. At a time of boom you cannot get them. Now maybe is a great opportunity to actually do that and so we have to invest at this time. I think we would welcome the opportunity to help the economy back up again.
Q358 Mr Cawsey: I met a constituent at the weekend who is a bricklayer and he said he was unemployed for the first time in 30-something years. Perhaps it is a good time for him to be teaching younger people how to be bricklayers.
Professor Hopkin: That is exactly the point. That might actually beat some of the skills shortages we have.
Q359 Ian Stewart: To all of you, we have seen the development of 20,000 trade union learning reps and they clearly are making a bridge directly between workers and employers in bargaining and further and higher education. Is this to be welcomed? Should it be encouraged? Also there was a pilot project in the 1990s where the concept of trade union learning reps came from but the other aspect of that project was training the learning reps to work with professional training monitors to deliver vocational training. Should that be encouraged?
Professor Hopkin: Could I answer that quickly and say many of us are looking at accrediting the work of union learning. We think it is absolutely critical because that way we reach a new audience that we have not actually reached. That is the actual answer.
Professor Eastwood: Yes, yes and yes.
Dr McVicar: Yes.
Dr Collins: Yes.
Ian Stewart: Four yeses. That is 35 years' worth of work to get three yeses!
Q360 Chairman: We have had an incredibly swift canter through some of this. Can I thank you all enormously for being such a lively and responsive panel this morning. Could we in particular thank you very much, Professor David Eastwood, for all the help that you have given to various committees during your time as Chief Executive of HEFCE. It has been enormously valued not only by this committee but by other committees too and we wish you every success with your role at Birmingham University, where I was once a very proud student.
Professor Eastwood: Thank you very much but I suspect you might call me in again between now and then.
Examination of Witnesses
Tom Wilson, Head,
Q361 Chairman: Could I welcome our second panel before us this morning and apologise that we are running somewhat over time. Tom Wilson, the Head of the TUC's Organisation and Services Department at the TUC (I am pretty sure you were very happy to hear the last comments); Wes Streeting, the President of the NUS, welcome to you; Anne Madden from the Equality and Human Rights Commission; and last, but by no means least, an old friend of various committees, Alan Tuckett, the Director of NIACE. I wonder if I could start with you, Alan, and ask do you feel that the Leitch targets are actually meaningful for individuals, particularly older workers returning, women workers returning, perhaps ethnic minorities with particular cultural issues to be addressed? Are the Leitch targets useful?
Mr Tuckett: I think the Leitch analysis was useful. I think the problem with the targets is that they bleach down into a very narrow set of measures ways of reaching goals which everybody could sign up to, so that for people who are adults who study part time, if they have the confidence to join in in the first place, what a full-fat Level 2 does is to force you to commit yourself for a long time. It does not fit in with the way you fit learning around your family. For the people you illustrated, Chairman, the issues are often about finding the space to fit learning into your life. That is why unitisation is really important and critical and once that is there, but if those targets are to be addressed seriously it is important that we do it episodically a little bit at a time and not in the 'big bang' numbers that we seem to be forcing ourselves to do at the moment.
Q362 Chairman: Anne, the same question to you: are they meaningful to the individual, because this session is about individual workers and students rather than the other organisations?
Anne Madden: I think it is very important to say that the aspirations, the targets, are tremendous and have the potential to do a great deal for individuals, but the problem rests with the fact that basically they are large volumes of numbers and they are not about people. I think what we would have liked to have seen were some indicators below the target which was about disaggregating them down for different groups, and that just does not exist, it is not there. All the points Alan makes about how people like to learn actually are lost in the way that the implementation arrangements are at the moment. They are very single focused basically. Yes, I think there are some issues there potentially, yes, but actually at the moment potentially, no.
Q363 Chairman: Tom, who do you think is left out here? Who is left out of this target-led agenda? Everyone seems to be nodding to those comments.
Tom Wilson: I think there are two main groups who are left out really. The first group is the millions of people who are not in the labour market at all and if the whole system is employer-led, who is speaking up for them. The other group is the 40% or so of employees who work for employers who frankly do not do very much training at all. In a sense the problem with the Leitch agenda, which we broadly supported, was that it assumed that all employers were basically benign and keen on training and, frankly, our experience is very much that is not the case. We do not really think that Leitch paid anything like enough attention to the people who are either not in the labour market at all or are churning around, in and out. In some ways, just to echo what Anne was saying, if there had been a bit more analysis and discussion of the equalities and diversity dimension of the labour market and the real difficulties that many, many disadvantaged groups have - women, Bangladeshis, single-parents, the unskilled, the older workers over 50 - whether they are employed or not, many of those simply do not get the chance to have any experience of training at all.
Q364 Chairman: Tom, obviously your organisation is involved
with students throughout, not just simply higher education students. We heard earlier from the Vice Chancellors
representing the higher education sector that there was evidence that literally
millions of people wanted to have the skills.
Where is the evidence from the
Wes Streeting: I am not quite sure it is the right emphasis to say that there are literally people knocking on the door, if anything we are desperately trying to get out there and explain why this agenda is so important, why skills for life is becoming so critical and if that is not the case why on earth are we spending so much money on publicising the fact that the skills agenda is so important. Clearly there are people out there who have a need and a potential to succeed if they gain those skills, but I think the emphasis at the moment is still so much on explaining the pathways that are available and explaining the benefits. Certainly for students who are already in education we are seeing now more and more emphasis on employability and certainly students in higher education are becoming a lot more savvy about employability. I was quite taken aback when the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills undertook their citizens' juries at the extent to which employability was one of the key issues that came out in that. We are aware that students are keen to get jobs when they graduate, of course they are, but the extent to which this is now at the forefront of students' minds and they are constantly thinking throughout their course about how they get extra skills to beef up their CVs is a really interesting development.
Q365 Chairman: Can I just say, the points that Alan, Anne and
Tom made about groups who are not touched by the Leitch agenda, are the
Wes Streeting: The benefit of Leitch is that
once again it has reinforced the importance and principles which lie behind
getting more people active in education and receiving the skills and training
they need to succeed in a workplace, and again underlining not just the social
case for expansion of higher education and widening parts of post-16 education
more broadly, but the economic case for that too. I think there are problems in the delivery,
the emphasis on delivery through employers and employers as the gatekeeper, I
certainly agree with Tom is a significant issue. For us, I think we have an increasing
challenge as a result of expansion about how, as the National Union but also
students union locally, we represent the interests of a very diverse group of
learners. Whilst there have been
significant steps forward, and there are some excellent models of good practice
amongst our membership, we still have some way to go in that. Certainly for us reaching out and engaging
part-time students, mature students and work-based learners is incredibly
difficult. It is something we are very
actively looking at, but at the moment there are no magic solutions, I think,
Q366 Chairman: There is obviously a lot of support for your comments across the whole of the panel, but I am going to come back to you, Alan. The Leitch agenda is very much focused about upskilling. NIACE is an organisation that is very, very concerned with lifelong learning, making sure that is embedded into the schools agenda. Is it possible to have those two separate targets brought together and, if Leitch is not the answer, what is the answer?
Alan Tuckett: If you do not have a participation target as well as qualifications targets, you do not notice who is paying the price. What we have got currently is a small number of people increasingly getting qualifications through the Train to Gain programme but our survey this year shows a dramatic drop for all the core groups that government is after. Never mind the marginalised groups who you probably started with Full-time employees, 7% fewer of them saying they have been involved with learning over the last three years since two years ago; part-time workers the same; C2s, a key group for government thinking, 8% down; DEs have not shifted in ten years; 25 to 34 year olds 7% down. Now if you were to describe a demographic, and we are attempting to engage with the principle that learning is what matters, you would be worried to see such a dramatic drop. At the heart of that is a belief government seems to have that short courses are of no intrinsic value in themselves. To go back to the question you were asking Wes, if you do not motivate people, if you do not give them the chance to put their toe in the water and do something that they feel some agency over, they do not sign up with a passion to the long full-fat qualification. I think the difficulty is not the aspiration, it is the view that qualifications are the only way to get there when they really work for labour market entrants, they really work for young people but they do not work like that for most adults in the economy in the same way at all, and we have a one-size-fits-all big boot to attempt to make it work and those people are paying the price.
Q367 Chairman: Anne, you were nodding there, do you want to briefly say something?
Anne Madden: I agree with that. I think one of the issues for Leitch was about trying to increase productivity through putting more skills into the labour market, but in order to do that we need to move more people through the different levels. What we are not doing, what is not there, is any real focus on progression. There is a lot of progression in principle, but in practice in terms of implementation there is no real methodology built in to achieve that. It would have been great to have had some progression targets. It would have taken cleverer civil servants than me to create them, I am sure, but, nevertheless, I think that is what this whole agenda is about, it is about taking people from there and moving them up there. That is how we are going to get the high level skills that the economy needs and that is what individuals need. If I can just say, what we do not have in the entitlements is any focus on renewable skills or renewing skills so, in fact, people could achieve a level 2 and sit with a level 2 forever if you are of a certain age because there is no entitlement to be retrained in something which is economically viable and which is going to get you a good job. I think there are a lot of barriers in there which we need to address if we are going to make the system work.
Q368 Chairman: Tom, I just want to return to this point, and then I will bring in my colleague, Gordon Marsden. This issue of reskilling has come out time and time again during this inquiry. How do you, as the TUC, and how do the unions actually approach this with employers to say what actually matters is people in jobs which are going nowhere gaining the skills to move on to go somewhere else? There is no incentive for employers to engage with that agenda, is there, or do you think there is? How could it be?
Tom Wilson: I think Train to Gain is trying to create those sorts of incentives and where it works well and a Train to Gain broker can identify the skill set of the workforce is no longer relevant and they need to upskill and retrain and so on, and the broker can help the employer to see that, then where it works well employers do work with brokers and drawdown Train to Gain funding and work in that way. I think as the previous witnesses were saying that is very patchy. What is interesting about Train to Gain is that in some regions it is working quite well, in others much less well, from which you would deduce it is the delivery of it rather than the original concept which is the problem. I think that is what we find in some ways because where it has been loosened to be able to work more flexibly with what employers need so that, for example, this notion that if you originally had a level 2, that is it, you are never entitled to get one again, where they can begin to chip away at that a bit and meet people's needs a bit more openly and flexibly is far better. The other thing I would say is that part of the problem that Alan rightly identifies about the over-emphasis on qualifications is because the current qualification system is too cumbersome, too big, it needs to be broken down, modularised in the way that has been discussed and were that to happen - and we would very much like to see that speeded up - that could help enormously. What we find with our union members is that they do value qualifications enormously, but the problem is this notion of a full-fat level 2 or nothing. There is an awful lot that needs to be done to make it work well. We would take issue with the notion that Train to Gain is inherently flawed, it is more to do with the way it has been delivered and some of that is improving.
Q369 Mr Marsden: Anne Madden, one of the issues you always come across in these sorts of inquiries is the effects of unintended consequences. When the Government issued its Raising Expectations paper at the beginning of the year there was a lot of discussion around it, but I think there is some concern that one of the unintended consequences of it may be to make the situation for adult learners in particular worse. I just want to bounce off you - given your position at EHRC - a quote from the submission from NIACE to the Government on this. They said that: "... NIACE was both surprised and shocked that Raising Expectations did not appear to assess the impact of change upon the Government's agendas for fairness and equality". Is that a concern that you share?
Anne Madden: It is absolutely, yes. There was an assessment of the original skills strategy, an equality impact assessment, looking at the impact on a whole range of groups in the community. We would have expected the Raising Expectations consultation similarly to have done that exercise. I think I am right in saying we searched high and low but we could not find that assessment. I do not know if any of the other witnesses were able to do that. I think it goes back to my original point that that absolutely should have happened because, you are right, there are unintended consequences. The consequences are that large numbers of people, and in fact those who are most in need often of acquiring the sorts of skills that this agenda is about, are left out of the arrangements for delivering them. Yes, I think you are absolutely right.
Q370 Mr Marsden: Okay. Nevertheless, it is the case that the Government's strategy at the moment is very much about investing large sums in specific skill trajectories. The Government would argue as well that they in any case, and of course they have an informal learning consultation out, are doing quite a lot on learning for its own sake. I wonder if I could come to you, Alan, because you have said again that some of the informal learning things are not being captured in the way that those programmes are being done. We talk a lot about enabling skills, soft skills, the Government talks a lot about enabling skills and soft skills. Is there not a way in which their imperative to follow the Leitch agenda and to get people with qualifications and enabling skills and your agenda, which is to get people back on to the ladder of learning through the short confidence building informal thing, can be matched?
Alan Tuckett: I thought that used to be
called other further education. Huge
amounts of qualifications of the kind that Tom was talking about, unitised
programmes, often accredited by the open college network, demonstrated that
people were picking up soft skills, engagement with other people, picking a
portfolio that fitted their own lives en route to mapping that against what
employers would want in terms of career chances for them. That is the provision that has paid the price
from the narrowing to the targets. You
will see this most dramatically, the problem about the big full fat
qualifications and their difficulty of fit for people acquiring skills, when
you look in the Skills for Life area which is a terrifically successful
programme for Government. It has helped
millions of people improve reading, writing and language skills, however the
target in tightening budgets with a tougher
Q371 Mr Marsden: Can I briefly bring Tom in on that point. We are talking very structurally here about how you can chase them. Union Learning Reps, great success, the Government is listening to you and wants to expand the role. Is there a way in which you could, via the Union Learning Reps system, intervene more actively to get that sort of unitisation away from the full-fat system which would enable both the Government to meet its targets and you to meet your aspirations?
Tom Wilson: Absolutely. What we would very much like to do is work towards a system where Union Learning Reps were working very closely and actively with the brokers so that together they could go to the employer and say, "Look, maybe if you were to flex the Train to Gain funding rules in these sorts of ways, for example to drawdown additional funding where people had had a level 2 but some time ago, where there was a need for upskilling that was clearly identified in that workplace, where, for example, within particular Sector Skills Council footprints there might be agreed criteria about the way in which Train to Gain could be flexed within that particular footprint", there are all sorts of ways in which, as Alan says, you could then begin to build up a much more flexible way of using Train to Gain. Many employers say this too, they say what they find is that Train to Gain is far too rigid and is not flexing in the way it was originally intended to do. I think if you couple that with a much more flexible approach to qualifications, and I do repeat our members do want qualifications but, exactly, as Alan says, of those kind of bite-sized chunks that you can put together and employers are not necessarily opposed to that, what they are concerned about is getting the skills they need and if they can be accredited, fine. The problem from an employer's point of view is that often it is only the whole thing or nothing.
Q372 Mr Marsden: Finally, on that point, because I think you were here for the previous session and you heard what the FE/HE representatives were saying. Do you think FE and HE are doing enough yet to meet the bite-sized vision that is the future that you are putting forward?
Tom Wilson: In a word, no.
Q373 Ian Stewart: A general point: 1972 UNESCO 4 Report Learning To Be said that lifelong learning should be the core of education. Have we achieved that? Does Leitch help or are we going backwards?
Alan Tuckett: We have gone on an extraordinary journey in the last ten years. We looked like we really had the aspiration to do both things, the economy and the richer citizenship development side of things. We then got panicked, as we periodically do, by industrial competitiveness internationally and narrowed it to a bleak utilitarianism which has undone pretty much all the good we did in the first years, I am afraid. That would be my summary of how we are doing towards the wider agenda. The pity of that is that hurts industry as well as the other agenda. The separation of learning for social cohesion and personal enrichment and learning for work is unhelpful for they interplay with one another. If you have got the confidence to learn in one place it leaks across to another area and that is something we seem to have lost: the confidence to trust people to get it right. You expect Government to set targets but they should be modest ones, leave people the chance to do what you were saying, a little bit around the edges so they can make it fit for purpose.
Marsden: I want to move on to ask some questions around
skills accounts and where they are taking us.
We all know the previous history of a good idea, hell among thorns or
thieves or however you want to describe it.
Tom Wilson: I think there is a lot of discussion going on but I think you are dead right, I do not think people have yet got to a clear concept of what a new skills account might look like. For us, the key features would be, firstly, that the range of kinds of qualifications or training or opportunities that they could pay for would be as wide as possible, and not, as Alan was saying, some rather narrow utilitarian approach that was just very tightly focused. Secondly, I think they were collectivisable and there is this interesting concept, the collective learning funds, which we pushed for and secured inclusion of in the previous FE White Paper where there are some pilots being explored now in the East Midlands and the North West. The idea is there that workers could pool their learning accounts working with Train to Gain, perhaps, with employer funding too, create a collective pot and in that way get far more than the sum of its parts because training, generally, most employers would, I think, prefer to do in a systematic way with a group of workers rather than just one-by-one.
Marsden: Wes Streeting, forgive me for saying so, I
have sat on other education select committees and it has become an annual
ritual when the
Wes Streeting: I think certainly funding is an important part of the dimension, but for us it is also about empowering individuals to make informed choices in a system now that is increasingly diverse and offering a very diverse range of qualifications. My concern is Dearing said that it is all very well having a whole series of pathways but you need signposts to guide people on the way ---
Q376 Mr Marsden: That is all very general. You sat on the Burgess Inquiry, have you got any specific thoughts?
Wes Streeting: Certainly for information, advice and guidance in terms of adult learners I think there is a massive gap in provision and lots of emphasis on giving information, advice and guidance to young people. Even at the moment there are very welcome developments coming forward from Government and ministers and both departments talking about a renewed push on information, advice and guidance, particularly in light of the 14 to 19 agenda. Again, this is taking place exclusively around young people's interests and we are not talking enough about adult learners too. I think in terms of making a real difference to people and getting people knocking at the door, first of all you need the signpost to point them in the right direction.
Marsden: Alan, I heard last night at another occasion
Baroness Sharpe, who of course sits for the Lib Dems in the Lords, talking very
eloquently about how it really would not be very problematical for the Government
to push the envelope of funding and support for training for post-25s. Of course, Government is responding in terms
Alan Tuckett: It is very hard, as with the
skills accounts, to see quite where the developments of the Adult Advancement
Q378 Mr Marsden: Finally, can I come to you, Anne, because in response to my earlier question you said that the Commission had been concerned about the lack of that equality check, if you like. On the principle of once bitten twice shy, what are you going to be able to do practically to have your voice heard on those issues when it comes to the roll-out of the skills accounts and it comes to the Adult Advancement and Careers Service?
Anne Madden: We are already talking to officials about how those initiatives are shaping up. We do have some ideas about Outreach, particularly with the Careers Advancement Service.
Q379 Mr Marsden: Ministers?
Anne Madden: Of course we should be talking to ministers and I hope we will be. We are a new organisation and we are putting our programmes in place at the moment. What I would say is this is a very important agenda for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. There is the whole issue about enabling people to acquire skills and progress and also to use them, because what we have not talked about here is underuse of skills in the economy, and that is massive too, particularly for women who have been out and for older learners. There are some very real issues. What we do not want to be is an organisation which just raises the problems and points to the fact that there are not equality impact assessments but which also helps to develop some of the solutions.
Q380 Mr Marsden: We have had a very welcome - at least I think it is very welcome - commitment from the Government in the Equalities Bill to widen it to include age discrimination. Is age discrimination in the provision of education and skills and training something that you might take up?
Anne Madden: I think very much so. Alan and I have been talking along the same lines today and we are very conscious of the disadvantage that the Leitch implementation arrangements have, particularly for older learners so, yes, that is an agenda which we will be taking very seriously.
Q381 Mr Marsden: Perhaps it might also be worth adding to them that there are ageing academics and part-time lecturers in various institutions who would be grateful not to be fobbed off with retirement at too early an age!
Anne Madden: We will do what we can about that.
Q382 Dr Turner: We have not looked at the content of the programmes on offer to see whether they are appropriate. Does the quality appropriateness of the programme content have any effect on the uptake of things like Train to Gain? Tom?
Tom Wilson: Very much so. One of the things that we would very much like to see is a far stronger right for there to be collective bargaining on training where ULRs would sit down with employers and talk about not just how much training was provided but also the kind of training and the quality and content of the curriculum that was offered. What we find very often is that ULRs will talk to their members at the workplace, their members will say, "Well I went on that course last week and frankly it wasn't much good, it wasn't quite right for me". The employer does not hear that, for all sorts of reasons, but ULRs do and ULRs can sit down with the training manager, whoever it is in a company, and start talking about, "Maybe we could change that course or get a better course or a different course" and that is exactly the kind of thing that they do. If there was a lot more of that and a lot more sense of the learners, the workers, being involved in the kind of course and the course content and so on, I think you would see a far greater uptake and continuation of progression.
Q383 Dr Turner: What kinds of reforms would you like to see to Train to Gain to meet individual needs so they do not go away thinking, "I didn't learn anything from that"?
Tom Wilson: One very simple thing would be a requirement that brokers should sit down and talk to ULRs. At the moment they are supposedly strongly encouraged to do that but our experience on that is pretty patchy, some brokers do and some do not. If all brokers knew they had to do that and to do that both with the employer and without the employer in the room, brokers might get a rather more rounded picture about what really were the training needs of that particular workplace and of the kind of nature of the demand as well. That is one thing. One other thing, briefly, nothing to do with Train to Gain, is we would very much like to have the right to collectively bargain on training included in the statutory list of issues along with pensions. You would expect me to say that!
Q384 Dr Turner: It is a very valid point.
Alan Tuckett: I think the way we have structured Train to Gain makes it very difficult for it to be uniformly beneficial everywhere. You get a relatively small amount of money as a provider if you are running a Train to Gain operation because often you are dealing with small numbers of workers and only one site for it, so the temptation is to go as much as possible to assess existing skills - assess, assess, assess - rather than to address Leitch's real agenda which is helping the country learn more to be more fit for the skills challenges of the future. We have seen a rounding down or up of what constitutes a full-fat level 2 now towards somewhere around 130 hours of study which is the equivalent, is it, of five A-C GCSEs over years for young people. The redescriptions that go on in the running of the programme make it very difficult to answer your question stably and sensibly across all the sectors where it might apply, but what I think we mostly need to do is be sure that this programme is working well before we triple the size of it and close down other routes to learning. I think Train to Gain is a really good addition, but it is a small addition to a portfolio of responses to learning, not the thing that should wipe everything else out.
Q385 Dr Turner: No-one has said anything about the quality of the trainers.
Alan Tuckett: Frankly, if I was a principal, apart from thinking 14 to 19s is a much safer area to be in, as many of them have been doing, moving out of the adult market, I would say that it is much cheaper to have an assessor doing a good deal of this work. Whilst we are picking up people who are in the workplace, skilled but not yet qualified, then what happens when you need to train people down the road? Soft structures do not lead you towards sensible outcomes for people.
Q386 Ian Stewart: Do you support the Government's plans for the expansion of apprenticeships and are they suitable for everybody?
Anne Madden: If I can come in on that. I think the expansion of apprenticeships is a good idea, but at the moment there is so much inequality within the apprenticeship system that there has to be some focus on getting that right before we roll it out in massive numbers. It is a good scheme and I would be in favour of brokering apprenticeships through Train to Gain. I do think that we have to recognise that the apprenticeship scheme as it is at the moment has flaws, if I can put it that way, and those absolutely need to be rectified, particularly as it is now one of the three staying on route ways. I think the suggestion is that the biggest increase in numbers will go through that apprenticeship route way. It is a good scheme but I think really it is not quite fit-for-purpose on the equality front at all yet. There are major issues around gender segregation. The gender pay gap is higher in the apprenticeship scheme than it is in the labour market and that cannot be right for young people entering the labour market or work-based training. There are issues for us, certainly.
Q387 Chairman: Wes?
Wes Streeting: If I can add to that. Certainly we strongly support the expansion of the numbers of apprenticeships. I think that is absolutely the right way forward. I think areas to watch or areas that ought to be of concern as they move forward on apprenticeships are, first of all, the emphasis on volume should not distract from getting the right people matched to the right apprenticeships for them and I think there is a risk there if we are not careful about how people are linked up to appropriate apprenticeships. The development of public sector apprenticeships is something the Government should look very carefully at because it would expand options and routes for people looking to undertake apprenticeships. A couple of other issues that we have raised: obviously the exemption of very young workers from the national minimum wage on apprenticeships is a contributor to non-completion rates which damages not just individuals and wastes money but also damages the perception of successful apprenticeships as well, so that is something to look out for. We welcome the fact that the Government has asked the Low Pay Commission to look specifically at this issue and hope that we see progress in this area. Finally, another area in which we have seen significant progress made by the Government is in the area of learner involvement and that was certainly reinforced by the Further Education and Training Act. The LSC are currently researching learner involvement strategies and how successful they have been across the sector. I would certainly like to see the outcomes of that research in regard to apprenticeships as well and the extent to which people on apprenticeships are being involved in shaping their learning opportunities and directing their progress through apprenticeships.
Alan Tuckett: We would like to see a much bigger adult apprenticeship programme, in part to help remind employers of the size and scale of the need to recruit qualified adults to meet the labour needs of the next 20 years. When the first four sector skills agreements involved recruiting twice as many young people as there are you have a sense of how some of the common sense in the employment market is not quite attuned to the importance of offering adult routes back. Whilst we have seen some expansion of adult apprenticeships I do not think there is enough focus on them.
Tom Wilson: The problem here is
employers. If you take the London Olympics as one example where there are now
several thousand people working on construction of various kinds, there is a
tiny handful of apprentices down there. If you talk to the big construction
employers you will get a string of excuses. "It is all the subcontractor" and
the subcontractor blames the sub-subcontractor and so on. The Government target now, absolutely right,
yes we do need a doubling of apprenticeships and we need far more older
apprenticeships and we need apprenticeships that are not so gender segregated,
as Anne rightly says, but the answer lies with employers and so far they are
singularly failing to step up to the mark.
You would expect the
Q388 Ian Stewart: Let me widen this out to the whole Leitch agenda. There are some unarticulated aspects of training like the Manchester University tutor, Etienne Wenger, who has developed this concept of communities of practice. What that means is in his work relating to apprenticeships is, apart from the formal training, when apprentices sit together, they talk to each other and raise their own level of consciousness about their jobs. Does Leitch allow for flexible learning and workplace learning? Is there enough emphasis on it in the Leitch agenda?
Alan Tuckett: That is what I said at the beginning about the difference in the analysis in Leitch and the prescription. The analysis is all about how we have to create learning cultures in the workplace. The prescription is qualifications which have a dodgy relationship with productivity on their own, as people have said. However, there is lots of evidence that workers like to learn by doing things, from talking to one another, from working convivially in the way you describe. In communities, in practice, courses are a late decision because people want the qualifications but actually they want more to know how to do things well. Knowing how to do things well, and thinking how we would do it differently tomorrow was really what the Leitch analysis was about. We need to be a confident country at learning, and the tools for getting there include qualifications but they are not by any means limited to that.
Q389 Chairman: Any other comments on that or do you all agree?
Tom Wilson: If I could just add. I could not agree more with Alan but, in a sense, you need a culture which embeds from top to bottom that notion that training is itself a collective enterprise. If you look at our European competitors, particularly Germany but also France, where they have a clear social partnership model of training, where the two sides get together and it is conceived of very much as a joint responsibility, that does translate all the way down to the shop floor where people naturally get together and talk amongst themselves about what is the best way to do it.
Q390 Ian Stewart: Absolutely. You will be well aware, Tom, that there have always been aspects of trade union training that have been unarticulated. For example, although trade unions do not train members to become local government councillors or school governors the training that the trade unions do fits those people well for those roles and that is unarticulated.
Tom Wilson: Exactly.
Q391 Ian Stewart: Let me put to you the question I put to Lord Leitch himself. Why do you think that in all the literature, the reports, trade unions have been almost airbrushed out when each and every commentator, each and every witness we have had, says trade unions play a full and active partnership role in all this?
Tom Wilson: Let me go first. I am not sure it is entirely true. It is partly not true because we have often seen the first draft of something and gone back to the civil servants and argued like hell to get a bit more mention of Union Learning Reps and so on, but I agree with you that it is an uphill struggle, it really is. I think there is a bit of a mindset that training is not something that workers should be bothering themselves with. This is a kind of an expert thing, you leave it to the professionals. The training manager in a company very often is deeply reluctant to expose themselves to a discussion about training and, bizarrely, when they do they are often pleasantly surprised and quite keen to carry on the discussion because they find it very useful. I do think there is that kind of mindset that somehow or other this is something that workers need not bother themselves with. It is so different on the Continent, this social partnership approach is so different. We are making some headway. I do think that the current Secretary of State, John Denham, has been particularly helpful on this and he has made some serious efforts to write the unions back into the script, but we have got a long way to go.
Chairman: I am going to leave that there. Thank you very much for that. Ian has followed this theme ---
Ian Stewart: --- doggedly!
Chairman: Yes, the
Q392 Dr Iddon: My question follows on from that. If we look at the structures that are expected to deliver the Leitch agenda, who represents the voice of those who are going to benefit the employees or the learner or the individual in these structures?
Anne Madden: I think that is a very good question. We identified something like four million people who are not in work and who are not on welfare and who are out there somewhere. I think those are the people who we need to give a voice to. At the moment it is not clear where that voice will come from. It will have to come through the arrangements for skills accounts and careers advancement agencies, I think. We need to do a lot more to give those people a voice and how we go about that is quite a challenge really. We need to be looking a lot more into community provision, using voluntary organisations and community groups. You are talking about people who do not appear within the documentation. Those are the sorts of groups who do not get a good airing in implementation arrangements but, in fact, those are the people who can give a voice to the people you are talking about and we need to do a lot more to join them into the arrangements, I think.
Q393 Dr Iddon: Alan?
Alan Tuckett: It is what my organisation
spends its life doing. It is trying to
open spaces for people's voices to be heard.
You were asking the previous panel about structures. It does seem to me if you are a long way from
involvement in learning, to have structures as destabilised as the further
education and skills structure is disabling in itself. If I get into a taxi and talk to people about
what I do, if you say you do night school, which we have not had since 1923,
they know exactly what you are talking about. If I say, adult learning, they
have gone to sleep. If you think of that
as how would you get your voice heard in a students debate, unlike the kind of
stability we were seeing celebrated by HE before or in schools where we have
stability plus for dealing with these changes, in the further education and
skills area we have got complete instability in prospect. I do not see where as a learner you would go
to wave the flag and say, "I'm not satisfied" because there is such instability
you do not really know how to do it. If you have a trades union, if you are
working in a unionised environment, that is a positive thing. If you are a
signed up student the
Q394 Dr Iddon: There used to be an organisation called, I think, the Workers Education Association.
Alan Tuckett: Yes.
Q395 Dr Iddon: In all of these interviews we have had on the Leitch agenda not one person on any panel has mentioned the WEA. Does that surprise you?
Alan Tuckett: They are very productive members and providers of education and training. They are members of our organisation. They do offer the sorts of things Ian was talking about around informal education and citizenship and management as well as the detail of what is offered by people, but then so do other organisations.
Q396 Dr Iddon: Is their voice heard in this discussion?
Tom Wilson: Yes I think so. I used to work for the WEA many, many years
ago and I am a strong supporter. They
work very closely with unionlearn, they help us to deliver training in the
workplace. They do a much, much wider
job, as Alan said. There are a whole
range of institutions out there.
Q397 Dr Iddon: One final question, Tom, perhaps starting with you on this question. Are there too many organisations representing the employers' voice, that is the opposite side of the previous question? Is the employers' voice too strong compared with the beneficiaries' voice?
Tom Wilson: I am reluctant to intrude on
private grief sometimes because I think the employers are very much at sixes
and sevens. If you look at the
Q398 Dr Iddon: Too many organisations?
Tom Wilson: I do not know whether it is too many, but they do not do a good job.
Q399 Mr Cawsey: Tom, I was going to ask you about an expanding role for unionlearn but you covered that earlier, unless there is anything you want to add to that. Something for you, and perhaps for Wes as well, is that it seems to me that unions are having a role in terms of the actual decisions that are made about what we are going to go on to do and the right training decisions for them, but to a certain extent that is the back end of the system, is it not? What is more important in many respects is influence in what the policy and the system is in the first place. Do you think you are getting a big enough say in all that?
Tom Wilson: I think it was Samuel Gompers who once said, "What do you want, you just want more". In a sense we would always want more, and we do. It is interesting we have a voice on the LSC, we have quite a strong voice on the Commission for Education, Employment and Skills, but it is nothing like as strong as the employer voice. To go back to the social partnership model, which is very much a kind of equality, that is what we would strive for and that is what we think would work well. I also think that where we do have a voice sometimes in RDAs or regional LSCs, some SSCs, we are ignored, frankly, we are treated as fairly tokenistic. You get one or two trade union people who are not given anything like the space and time they should have, but not always, I hasten to add. Quite often we find the chief executive rings us up and is pleasantly surprised to say, after a few meetings, "Actually your people are pretty good, they do a pretty good input", but we would like much more. We would like a far stronger say and, as you say, right at the very beginning when policy is being developed, particularly when funding streams are being designed.
Q400 Mr Cawsey: Wes?
Wes Streeting: I endorse much of that. I agree certainly with the assertion that the
employer voice has a disproportionate influence and the difficulty with that is
very often that leads to a very short-termist approach to decision-making. A statistic that always struck me was a
finding by the Scottish Institute for
Chairman: Ian Stewart was very much behind this session so I will give him the very last word before we go and pray.
Q401 Ian Stewart: Bearing in mind the statements made earlier about trade unions not being organised in the majority of companies in this country, the potential expansion of the concept of trade union learning reps, is there a role, for example, in trade union learning reps not only being involved in the devising of the training materials but in the delivery? Secondly, you will be aware, Tom, of the concept of roving health and safety reps who are allowed to go into companies that are not trade union organised, could there be such a potential future role for learning reps?
Tom Wilson: Very much so. It is something we have been pressing for for
quite a while. Interestingly, most
employers we talk to would support that because what they want is a level
playing field. What they are concerned
about is if they are investing in training they want to make sure the company
down the road is investing in training.
If they are investing in training because they have a union organisation
and ULRs and so on are active, they are more than happy for their ULRs to go
and preach the gospel down the road. We
have strong support for that. One way in
which we could help to answer that idea is through the notion of a super ULR,
the next stage up. It might perhaps need
a little bit more training. They could
certainly do the
Chairman: It is a pity Ian Gibson has left because that would have been music to his ears as well. Could I thank you very much indeed Tom Wilson, Wes Streeting, Anne Madden and Alan Tuckett. Thank you very much for your presence this morning. My thanks to my colleagues.