Examination of Witnesses (Questions 840-859)|
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
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
Q841 Mr David Jones: So it is actually
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
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 CouncilsI think it was the financial
services onewhere 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
Q849 Alun Michael: Because the finances
are specific to the college rather than to the location of the
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
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
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
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
Q853 Alun Michael: Perhaps the more
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 timewe 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
versaagain 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
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
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 aboutagain,
your phraseabout 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 issuethey 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 Skillsthey
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.