Cross-border provision of public services for Wales: Further and higher education - Welsh Affairs Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 840-859)

MR ALAN WOODS, MR RICHARD JONES, MS SUE HUNTER AND MS MICHELLE CREED

8 JULY 2008

  Q840  Mr David Jones: Do you see any signs of the administrations in England and Wales moving towards trying to achieve that parity; or has there been no such movement as yet?

  Ms Hunter: I think there is a lot of working together and talking together about the different qualifications; but I do see the two governments diverging in many ways.

  Q841  Mr David Jones: So it is actually getting worse?

  Ms Hunter: Potentially, but I do not think we have yet seen the impact of some of that potential. There are slight differences between the credit and qualifications frameworks as well. Whilst the difference between the English framework and the Welsh framework is not as marked as the differences between the English and Scottish frameworks, Sector Skills Councils and employers have to make sense of the three different qualification and credit frameworks. Not only that, but those also have to be articulated to the European qualifications and credit framework. For employers and, I think, probably learners too there is a huge area for confusion here. What does that mean? Why is there a different one over there? We struggle sometimes in Sector Skills Councils to understand the differences, so what employers and learners have to struggle with is even greater.

  Ms Creed: Can I just supplement that as well. I think Sue has clearly outlined where we currently are. I think one of the lights on the horizon for us that we must take account of is a major qualification reform programme, which is called the UK Vocational Qualification Reform Programme, which is going to be looking at, ironically, not including Scotland but England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and looking to bring together a common accord as far as the credit and qualification systems are concerned. One of the drivers behind the re-licence role of Sector Skills Councils will be working within that new framework to try and bring parity, esteem and a clearer understanding of how qualifications in different nations will actually articulate together.

  Q842  Mr David Jones: So effectively trying to return to where we were 10 years ago?

  Ms Creed: I am afraid my memory does not stretch that far back.

  Q843  Mark Williams: Carrying on, on what you said about the confusion of employers and employees, have you picked up that that is particularly marked on the border where companies have got employees from both sides of the border?

  Ms Hunter: Yes, I think there was an example in the pack you had previously from one of the other Sector Skills Councils—I think it was the financial services one—where they have got funding for Welsh students coming over the border into Gloucester College. The students needed to come to Gloucester to do the particular programmes, but the issue for the employers and the college was identifying the funding. So they have to get permission to bring the funding with them; whereas for the students based in England coming to the Gloucester College it is almost automatic.

  Q844  Mark Williams: How challenging is it getting that funding to follow the student?

  Ms Hunter: From our understanding, from what the Financial Services Sector Skills Council has said, it is "difficult and lengthy".

  Q845  Mark Williams: Is that an impediment for students to carry on?

  Ms Hunter: That is what they are saying. Not only is the process difficult and lengthy but sometimes permission is refused to bring the funding with them.

  Q846  Alun Michael: Is the fact that "Train to Gain" is available in England but is not available in Wales a significant issue as far as you are concerned?

  Mr Jones: It is indeed, especially if we take for example the HM Prison Service. We have three prisons in Wales, and the Prison Service is entitled to Train to Gain, but obviously Train to Gain does not come into Wales, so there are marked difficulties there.

  Q847  Alun Michael: So the Prison Service as a non-devolved service is eligible?

  Mr Jones: It is indeed.

  Q848  Alun Michael: But a prison that is located in Wales is not?

  Mr Jones: Yes. I believe that monies will follow over but it is not a natural follow-through. If we want to deliver any local training using local colleges, or local universities, they could not access that Train to Gain money.

  Q849  Alun Michael: Because the finances are specific to the college rather than to the location of the employment activities?

  Mr Jones: Yes, because the Train to Gain money would be kept in England and it would not necessarily follow into Wales.

  Q850  Alun Michael: There is also an issue that has been raised in relation to the European Social Fund. If you have got specifically funded programmes, as I understand it, it cannot be delivered across the border in Wales by colleges based in England, which therefore makes it more difficult for colleges who want to support a deprived community which is essentially a part of their catchment but is over the border. Is that an issue as far as you are concerned?

  Ms Hunter: It depends on the European Social Fund stream that they have got the project funding through, and what the remit and scope of the project bid was. If it specifically identified some activity in England and working with partners in England then that would be true, yes.

  Q851  Alun Michael: So if a bid were to identify a need to work across the border then that would be fine; but if that point was not appreciated at the bid point that could lead to practical difficulties later?

  Ms Hunter: I believe that is the case, yes.

  Mr Jones: It could also affect where the college is actually based; so you may have the college that is ideally placed to deliver that training, but because the college is outside the bid area it would be ineligible to deliver it.

  Q852  Alun Michael: One part of the equation, which again has already been touched on, is the question of how the voice of business is heard in the areas of further and higher education. My understanding and my experience is that that is particularly difficult in Wales where perhaps there are not the resources of headquarters-based companies to make a contribution to those sorts of discussions. So what are the best structures in the cross-border context for making sure that those voices are heard?

  Mr Jones: I have to say in our sector, the justice sector, we are very fortunate in that we do have 100% engagement with all of our employers at the senior level, and also very good engagement with those departments in HEIs who deal with the justice sector. I do not think other sectors are as fortunate.

  Q853  Alun Michael: Perhaps the more commercial sectors.

  Ms Creed: I think it is very much a sector by sector based question. It will depend on, as you say, some sectors will have everything from very large employers to very small employers; and every sector will have an employer engagement strategy that will look at how both the voice of the small and large employer will be accessed. The way in which Lifelong Learning UK works as an organisation is that we engage employers through the plethora of networks that already face our sector. We are not interested in re-inventing the wheel; we are not interested in getting employers to come to us if we can go to them, so we are going to where they would naturally congregate already. As well as the general collection of the voice through Fforwm, there are also the events that we would run in Wales where, for example, we consult on the national occupational standards, to which we have already alluded; and we would use electronic online support to also access different employers to get views on different topics and matters. I think there is a plethora of ways that we can do that, but I think the message has to be very definitely in collaboration and in partnership because I am sure the Committee will have already heard that engagement with employers is a challenge for many partners throughout the system, and what employers do not want are 101 people arriving on the doorstep at the same time—we have to be efficient in the way in which we approach them.

  Q854  Alun Michael: Does that mean that some activities, some commercial activities in particular, that efficiency requires a relationship with the employers at a national UK level rather than a more national and regional level?

  Ms Creed: That again would come back to the sector. So, for example, I previously worked for the Financial Services Sector, and obviously organisations that are global or pan-UK, like Lloyds TSB, for example, there would have needed to have been a relationship through the pool there; but also working with the area offices and networks at a country level.

  Q855  Mark Williams: I think we touched on this a bit earlier but on what basis would you choose an English further education college to work with over a Welsh one and vice versa—again getting into the realms of the government funding system in each country?

  Ms Hunter: The first consideration for most employers, particularly in our sector, is whether the college or the higher education institution can offer a quality fit for purpose programme, regardless of where it is. We have a number of examples in our sector of police forces and probation services using higher education institutions that are quite some considerable distance from where they are based because they are the right institution to offer that provision. But for some Sector Skills Councils the employers will have a much greater interest in what the funding issues are; so for our sector they traditionally have not been able to access a lot of public funding for educational and training in colleges and HEIs anyway. But for some sectors that will be a real issue and it goes back to what we were saying previously about the infrastructure investment and the funding regimes.

  Q856  Mark Williams: We had some evidence from the Summit Skills Council that again talked about the difference between Train to Gain, which is perceived to be well marketed, simple to access and has engaged employers, whereas the workforce development fund (which is available in Wales) is poorly advertised, communicated and "not worth the hassle".

  Ms Hunter: And quite complicated as well.

  Mr Jones: Depending on which route you choose some of the training may be 100% funded, there will be a contribution; but we do believe that an announcement is going to be made by the Assembly next week on the way forward with the Sector Development Fund.

  Q857  Mark Williams: We talked about—again, your phrase—about the divergent policy between the two countries. How difficult is it to broker partnerships between Wales and England? Is it more difficult to broker partnerships across the border than within England or Wales?

  Mr Jones: Again, just talking for our sector, we have seen it as an opportunity, especially some of the work that the South Wales Police have been doing, for example, they have developed what is known as an advance appointment scheme. So if you are a student who chooses to undertake the BA in police studies at Glamorgan whilst you are studying you can become a special constable at weekends, and you can serve as a special constable in your holidays. And there is one student from Wiltshire who is attending Glamorgan on the same course and Wiltshire Constabulary have taken him on to their advanced appointment scheme to run parallel to show the difference that is being made.

  Q858  Mark Williams: How common are those partnerships in other Sector Skills areas?

  Ms Hunter: I think there are some examples but I think they are few and far between.

  Mr Woods: For me the evidence that comes out is that as we are supposed to be articulating the voice of employers, employers are going to go to wherever there are business driven high level skills on offer, and it is those relationships that we are having to broker. I do not think, as I said in my comments, that necessarily that is seen as an England or Wales issue—they are going to where they see the best value that is added to their business from the skills being offered by that HE institution. The difficulty that we have is translating the need from the employer to those HE institutions because sometimes the language and the focus is different. One might characterise it stereotype it as being academic and one being about vocational. It is about us as Sector Skills Councils trying to broker those partnerships between the HE institutions and employers to speak a common language that they can then deliver something which the employer wants, and that is part of our work and it is also part of the new remit of the Commission for Employment and Skills—they will be looking at the relationship in higher education to businesses.

  Q859  Mark Williams: Do you detect a change in attitude in those higher education institutions? Obviously you have pointed to the success stories, but more generally.

  Mr Woods: I think there is a greater recognition that universities to some extent or higher education institutions are going to have to go back somewhat to their roots in providing business added value qualifications, and if the attainment that we wish which is articulated through REACH about world class skills then that is the only way in which that is going to happen, and to have it divorced from the reality of business productivity and performance I think is a false one.


 
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