Achieving an ambitious and bold new vision for the future of colleges – New Independent Commission on the College of the Future report launched

A new report has been published which notes that radical, long-term education and skills reforms and investment is needed to address current and future skills gaps and transform life chances for every adult.

In its new report, The Independent Commission on the College of the Future calls for colleges to be placed front and centre of those reforms across the UK’s four nations.

Covid-19 consequences, leaving the EU, climate change and the fourth industrial revolution means that more part-time, adult and vocational education will be needed across the UK to prioritise business needs and shifts in the labour market. Radical change is needed in education and skills policies and systems so that colleges can encourage people to train, upskill or acquire skills throughout their lives for the jobs of tomorrow.

The UK-wide report sets out eleven recommendations for reform and renewal of the college systems, and the three key points they call for are:

1. Upskilling people across the UK by making it possible for everyone to learn throughout their lives, whatever route they choose to take – with a statutory right to lifelong learning and grants and loans that allow college students to live well whilst studying.

2. Backing business, driving innovation and addressing skills gaps by establishing a unique service for employers at their local colleges for training and upskilling both future and current employees and innovation support, including through “employer hubs”.

3. Overhaul, rebalance and integrate the whole post-16 education and skills system in each nation with a 10-year strategy for how colleges will deliver what each nation’s economy and society needs, redressing funding inequity where it exists.

The Commission started by asking what we want and need from colleges in 2030 and how to get there. The report sets out the UK-wide recommendations and will be followed later this year by reports for each of the four nations, setting out nation-specific recommendations in further detail.

Audrey Cumberford FRSE MBE, Principal and CEO Edinburgh College and member of the Independent Commission on the College of the Future, said:

“Predictions of the potential for a global pandemic have circulated for many years, reinforced by the emerging conditions that could contribute to making this a reality; climate change, massive urbanisation, a global economy and growth in international air travel. Our report reflects a deep dive into how colleges can best be empowered to respond to these conditions. Scotland has undergone really important reforms over the past decade, putting us in a real position of strength that the Commission has learnt from.

“The ongoing Scottish Funding Council’s (SFC) review represents a serious opportunity to develop a more coherent, agile and integrated tertiary education system that will support colleges to deliver even more for our people, employers and communities. If “education is the passport to the future” then my hope is that this report stimulates discussion, debate and thinking across our sector, policy-makers and funders to start preparing for our future today.”

Sir Ian Diamond, Chair of the Independent Commission on the College of the Future and UK National Statistician said:

“Colleges are vital yet under-utilised institutions that offer the transformational learning and support that our four nations need now, more than ever, if we are to face the long term impacts of COVID-19 and to drive a sustainable, inclusive economy.

 “We must all commit to a bold ambition on skills. Lifelong learning is the only way to ensure people and businesses will survive the recession and thrive in the future. With the right support, colleges can deliver on this urgent need for every community.”

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director and member of the Independent Commission on the College of the Future said:

“CBI-McKinsey analysis suggests that as automation transforms the nature of work, widespread reskilling will help society unlock the benefits of new technologies, support job creation and tackle inequality. Colleges have a vital role to play in this, and the Commission’s report sets out a bold vision for how institutions can collaborate with businesses to boost the life chances of people from all backgrounds.

“We have the opportunity of a lifetime to revamp further education, and place partnership between institutions and employers at its heart. This will help colleges provide more tailored support to local labour markets, and empower individuals to develop the skills they need to succeed.”

Professor Ewart Keep, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Education, University of Oxford, and member of the Independent Commission on the College of the Future, said: 

“We want colleges to have a bigger role in lifelong learning, in helping businesses to innovate and improve, in supporting productivity improvements, and in strengthening a sense of place and purpose in their locality. To achieve this, the report argues for more stable long-term funding models, and greater cooperation between colleges, and between colleges and other educational providers, such as universities. The aim is to create coherent local education systems that can deliver for people of all ages in a way that is tailored to meet local economic, social and cultural needs.

“Much of what the report argues for is already happening, in pockets, around various parts of the UK.  Our vision for 2030 is to ‘level up’ practice, provision and thinking across all four UK nations so that what is path-breaking today is the commonplace of tomorrow.  Colleges have the potential to do and be so much more than now.   

“In a world where economic dislocation and its social consequences loom large, and where ‘levelling up’ is the slogan of the moment, colleges have the potential to deliver better outcomes for people, places and for productivity and economic success.”

Read the report here.