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Kathy Smethers

Cllr Kathy Ballard is a councillor in Eastborne.

University education in all disciplines should be directly linked to a job and skills for life. Young people are already taking advantage of new high quality apprenticeships that take learners right up to degree level and give them the skills they need to build a career.

Higher apprenticeships are delivering for employers and training the next generation of engineers, computer developers and chartered accountants.

Some of the biggest companies in the country already offer higher apprenticeships and many are involved in designing new degree apprenticeships. From April 2017, a new levy on company payrolls will give help to more than 11,000 higher apprenticeships started between August 2015 and January 2016.

Young people see the benefits of higher apprenticeships to degree level because they are developing skills for life geared to work. They are paid to learn and do not end their degree saddled with a large loan.

Employers see the advantages of this scheme because they can have control over who they develop as their employees and can ensure the candidates they train gain degrees that exactly fit the company’s requirements.

Higher apprenticeships in jobs for the public sector could be possible by developing the new levy on company payrolls. Degrees in Economics, Politics, English Literature or Classics could be sponsored by employers’ vouchers in cases a general high-quality degree is preferred.

The NHS and private hospitals could sponsor medical degrees for all health professionals, requiring them to stay in the NHS for a period after training due to the high expense of training this staff. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, announced at Conservative Party Conference this year that we will be training more doctors and requiring them to stay in the NHS for at least 4 years after training because of the expense of training a Doctor.

This thinking is already taking place, however the link with higher apprenticeship funding has not yet been considered.

Nursing degrees should be done as higher apprenticeships in a similar way to the old-style training before university degrees were required. If nurses were paid to train for using practical skills on the wards we could get back to the qualities of caring that we are in danger of losing, as the balance of theory and practical experience is currently weighted too much in favour of the theoretical.

Other sectors are also getting involved. Law degrees are already being developed as higher apprenticeships through the legal Executive route in local colleges, and Herriott Watt University has set a precedent in the oil industry for this sort of approach.

A national policy could be rolled out working with the private sector to result in ‘free’ university education. It would be a gradual process as more businesses came on board but tax incentives would make it more effective.

Businesses should be given recognition of their investment in society and their own business’s long term economic plan, and the amount of profit invested in training should be shown publicly.

This doesn’t give a dividend to shareholders but is an indicator of a company’s succession planning and longevity. It would provide an indicator of a long term investment plan of the sort that would be welcomed in a blue chip company.

If a reduction in corporation tax was provided in addition to the payroll levy for such an investment, commensurate with the amount of investment, this would ensure that businesses would be incentivised to provide training for graduates to do jobs that were required in the economy.

There have been 366,000 apprenticeship starts so far in the current parliament, and the government is committed to driving up the number of higher and degree apprenticeships as part of commitment to three million by 2020. I suggest this should go further, with in a national policy to look at funding for all university degrees with industry supporting the degrees that are most sought after.

For too long we have been told that everyone should go to university. I suggest that many degrees are not of sufficient quality to appeal to employers, and result in a large debt for the graduate with no prospect of gaining a graduate level job afterwards.

If you are accepted for a higher apprenticeship this uncertainty is taken away. This would challenge the higher education establishment to work more closely with business to drive up the quality of their provision. Other schemes for university places could still be made available as required, however if you can’t afford to pay for a degree then this option would be the most popular way to get to university.

Such a policy would benefit working class students, and help to build a country that works for everyone by creating an education system that works for everyone.

3 comments for: Kathy Ballard: How to better connect higher education with employers

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