Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400
WEDNESDAY 29 APRIL 2009
Q400 Mr Marsden: It is an attitude.
When I say attitude, it is a role model issue.
Mr Ramsay: I suspect there is
a tipping point that we have not reached. Heavily male industries
like manufacturing or construction are not that encouraging for
young women. You have to be quite feisty to get on in them.
Q401 Mr Marsden: Could I come back
to John Harris and then I will move on to the other witnesses.
In its written evidence, SEMTA has talked about the issue of co-funding
courses. You said, "where employers are co-funding courses
the university may not be able to stipulate strict entry requirements
in terms of prior qualifications" and "the employer
may wish to nominate employees who have a wide range of prior
achievement". I know there is always a bit of push and pull
in these things, but you seem to be saying there that employers
should be able to nominate students even if the university does
not find them suitable or passing their initial entry requirements.
Do you think that might be problematic?
Mr John Harris: I do not think
that is the issue we are making there. The point we are making
there is a simple one. It is that where employers are co-funding
a course, they obviously have a say in which of their employees
attend that course. I think that is the point we are making.
Q402 Mr Marsden: That is an existing
Mr John Harris: Yes.
Q403 Mr Marsden: That is an existing
Mr John Harris: Yes.
Q404 Mr Marsden: Are you pressing
for an extension and an expansion of that process?
Mr John Harris: No.
Q405 Mr Marsden: John Crompton, perhaps
I can come to you, again along this line of acceptance of higher
education which comes via non traditional means and perhaps, particularly,
acceptance by employers of these universities. There is an increasing
amount of higher education which is being delivered by further
education. In my own constituency, Blackpool, Blackpool and the
Fylde College is an associate college of Lancaster University.
Students of Blackpool and The Fylde College get their degrees
from Lancaster. You were a former FE
college governor, I gather, for a number of years.
Mr Crompton: Yes.
Q406 Mr Marsden: Is that message
getting through to employers, that the HE
degrees that come via an FE experience can be as valid and valuable
as ones that come via traditional higher education universities?
Mr Crompton: I think it is a change
that is happening. I think the industry as a whole is beginning
to accept it, whether they believe that it is horses for courses
in the type of people coming out of those courses and coming to
a certain area, rather than, say, going to a university
Q407 Mr Marsden: Are you making a
distinction there between vocational courses and non-vocational
courses? In terms of Procter & Gamble's recruitment, would
that mean that if you were not looking at someone who had done
a vocational degree but perhaps a more standard degree, you would
look more askance at someone who had come to that degree via FE
than via a traditional university?
Mr Crompton: We would look at
both. The vocational degree from further education and universities
is more in a mix, and you have the other less vocational and more
theoretical degree which is a different thing.
Q408 Mr Marsden: Mike, you quoted
in your evidence that 64% of directors in a June 2008 poll said
that "employers took A-level results into account when recruiting
young people because they were a good guide to ability."
In view of the discussion we have just been having and, indeed,
changing demographics, is it not going to be more sensible in
future for some of your members to cast their net a bit more widely
than just looking at A-levels as the gold standard, if that is
what they do?
Mr Mike Harris: You are absolutely
right, and they were and they do. That particular result was drawn
from a study that was particularly looking at A-levels and GCSEs
and perceptions of them, and not: What do you look at to the exclusion
of everything else? We are going to need to meet our skills needs
via the non-traditional methods within HE, whether that is in
FE or whether it is in the workplacewhich is a very difficult
thing to get right, particularly for small businessesand
I think a huge amount of credit has to go to quite a number of
institutions that have really picked up the baton on that. It
is much easier to identify those who are doing it well than those
who perhaps have not got there yet. But that is something which
our members support and we would just like to recognise the effort
that has been put in already.
Q409 Mr Marsden: Obviously the new
boys on the block in terms of alternatives to A-levelsand
obviously we have the IB
which has been around for some timeis this whole issue
of apprenticeship expansion and diplomas. There are key questions
there about whether universities will accept them as a higher
education qualification. There is perhaps a sub-question about
whether some of your employers will accept them in the same way.
John Harris, do you have any views on that?
Mr John Harris: It is an interesting
point. Two of our large engineering companies, which I will not
name, say that 50% of their professional engineers have come through
their apprenticeship programmes, so they have come to FE, on to
HE, and probably through professional institutions to become chartered
engineers. That is an interesting situation. I think that goes
on in smaller companies but it is not so visible, but certainly
in larger companies it is very visible. Going onto the diploma,
we see the diploma as a real opportunity to give young people
an opportunity to learn about, in our case, engineering, and,
when the science diploma comes on stream, about science, and to
find out at a fairly young age if that is what they want to do.
We are confident. I do not work directly with the diploma team
but they have worked very closely with the universities and we
are confident that advanced diploma graduates will be able to
go into the university and continue their studies. It is a real
opportunity for us.
Q410 Mr Marsden: Andrew, from your
perspective, are you equally sanguine about this?
Mr Ramsay: Yes, we worked very
closely with SEMTA and a number of other sector skills councils
to improve the diploma. Our concernwhich is not so different
from the concern we expressed in our written evidence about the
quality of maths of students entering universitywas redoubled
in the case of the diploma, but we have been able to establish
additional learning which will be part of the diploma which will
make it perfectly acceptable as an entry requirement, and we will
be very pleased to see people come through that route because
it will have given them some hands-on experience before they go
Q411 Mr Marsden: John, given your
role for Procter & Gamble and the CBI, you must see an enormous
amount of different attitudes in universities to the sorts of
people recruiting. What is your experience through the universities
to qualifications other than the gold standard A-levels? Also,
there is a lot of talk, certainly from government, about employers
paying significant sums of money for co-funded places. Is that
going to be a realistic option for increase in an economic downturn?
Mr Crompton: The diplomas are
new. The big thing about the diplomas, when somebody gets to 18
with a diploma, is do they go into higher education or do they
start work. That has to be shaken out, because there will be quite
a few opportunities for people who leave with a diploma at 18
to start work and use their practical knowledge, operating equipment
or working in a science lab. I am unsure how many of those are
then going to go on to further education and what the design of
it is. When they move from practical learning to some theoretical
learning, how they are going to handle that with the maths is
Mr Marsden: A very interesting point.
Q412 Chairman: In response to this
co-funded issue, do you think it is going to be more difficult
to get co-funded places now, given the economic recession, or
are smart employers still going to say, "We want to support
and get the best graduates into our business"?
Mr Crompton: Employers are always
going to want to get the smart people. They will work with the
smart people and they will do that by making payment in kind,
I would guess, which is going and giving courses at universities,
going to schools, encouraging people to go through, and giving
up time. I think they will continue to sponsor people through
university. They will continue to do PhDs. It will not increase,
that is for sure, over the next couple of years. I think you will
find that a lot of it will be payment in kind.
Mr Mike Harris: It is almost certain
they will come under greater pressure, but I will be in a better
position in about a week's time to give you further details, because
we are just launching a survey to try to get a better grip on
what exactly is happening to companies' training budgetsnot
with an intention to maintain investment in training in this coming
year, but what kind of courses are now being considered and what
is there any focus on. Is it things like degrees, or is it much
more needs intensive, customer service skills or something like
that for business? I do not have any data I can share with you
Q413 Chairman: It would be useful
if you could let us have that, because that would be very useful
to enforce. A thought from you, Andrew, in terms of pressure on
Mr Ramsay: Obviously the recession
will make a difference but there is an interesting article in
this week's Economist about the extent of private as opposed
to public funding going into higher education in a variety of
countries and it draws the conclusion that the high standard in
the United States of universities and their graduates, and to
some extent in the United Kingdom, is due to the extent of private
funding going into education, and that European universities have
fallen behind because they rely almost exclusively on public funding.
Q414 Chairman: John, do you have
Mr John Harris: Employers do put
an enormous amount of their money into universities The research
that goes on, funded by employers, is colossal, and sometimes
it is not visible, it is not known.
Chairman: I would like to thank you all
very much indeed for coming this morning. What has struck me very
much is how positive you are about the product you are getting
from our universities. All of you seem to be making that point.
I thank you very much indeed.
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