I have been asked to reply.
Improving progression towards further and higher education and encouraging young people to continue learning for longer is vital to improve the life chances of young people and meet our economic needs. The total number of 16 to 18-year-olds in education and training increased by 15,500 to 1,547,000 at end 2006, the highest number ever. The 14-19 reforms—outlined in the ‘14-19 Education and Skills Implementation Plan’ (2005) and ‘Raising Expectations: staying in education and training post-16’ (March 2007) are designed to encourage more young people to continue learning for longer and to gain the qualifications they need to progress to further and higher education.
Last month the Government published “World Class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Building Skills for All”. It set out a wide range of steps which will improve apprenticeships for the future and ensure that an apprenticeship place is available for all qualified young people by 2013. This will play a major part in raising the participation age in learning to age 18.
We also aim to increase participation in higher education (HE) towards 50 per cent. of those aged 18 to 30, with growth of at least 1 percentage point every two years to 2010/11. In November 2006 the then Department for Education and Skills published “Widening participation in higher education”. It showed the policies being pursued in four areas—raising educational attainment, raising aspirations, improving applications and admissions, and measuring performance—which individually and collectively help to encourage and enable people from a wider range of backgrounds to go on to HE. Since the publication of “Widening participation in higher education” my Department has announced that the successful Aimhigher initiative will continue for another three years in its efforts to raise young people's attainment and aspirations and improve their progression. The Government have also launched nine regionally-based excellence hubs—university partnerships which are delivering a national programme of outreach opportunities for gifted and talented learners, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Government are convinced that there is much to be gained by encouraging stronger partnerships between schools and universities and wants every secondary school to have a university partner. To that end, last year the Department for Children, Schools and Families and my Department jointly published “Academies, Trusts and Higher Education: prospectus” which sets out one way in which universities can work more closely with schools to create a better understanding of HE, encourage a wider range of applicants and ensure young people are properly equipped to make the most of HE.