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University Technical Colleges

Volume 541: debated on Monday 27 February 2012

5. What assessment he has made of the role of university technical colleges in bridging the skills gap. (96387)

University technical colleges provide a high-quality technical education. That is why they are a key part of our school reforms and why, in last year’s Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor doubled the funding so that we can open at least 24 UTCs in this Parliament. We intend to make an announcement about the next tranche by the end of May.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the joint bid for a university technical college at MediaCityUK that is backed by the Lowry arts centre, the Aldridge Foundation, the city council and the university—by everybody in the city. The creative industries are vital for our economic growth. Will he therefore ensure that local young people in Greater Manchester and in Salford have the skills, through the university technical college, to take up the opportunities that will be coming over the next few years?

The revival of Salford over the past few years is a model of how urban regeneration should be led, and the right hon. Lady has played a vital part in that. I have to be fair to all the bids, but undoubtedly this bid, given the heavyweight support that it enjoys, will be taken very seriously by the Department and by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust.

The JCB university technical college is dismayed by the Secretary of State’s decision to devalue the OCR engineering diploma, which was developed by leading manufacturers such as JCB, Rolls-Royce and Toyota and leading universities such as Cambridge, Loughborough and Warwick. At a time when employers in Teesside and elsewhere are desperate for engineering skills, will he review that decision?

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the role that he has played in ensuring that the steel industry returns to Redcar. Few people in the House have done more for engineering jobs than he has. It is right to affirm the importance of engineering in schools and colleges, but I believe that it should take its place alongside physics, chemistry and biology as a science subject of value. It is appropriate for those subjects to be judged on a level playing field.

Engineering and technology have some of the lowest levels of participation among women of all the professions. Given that university technical colleges are new institutions that have the opportunity to ensure that more girls take part in these subjects, will the Secretary of State set them the aim of ensuring that 50% of their entrants are girls?

I am always wary of targets and quotas that have 50% at their heart. However, the broader point that the hon. Lady makes about the need for all of us to encourage more girls to contemplate a career in design, technology or engineering is very strong. She authored a report last year that was welcomed by the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, which made a series of recommendations that university technical colleges and, indeed, the whole school and college sector should take to heart.

The Secretary of State for Education has won funding of more than £600 million for new free schools. If there are enough good UTC bids, such as the bid from Harlow hospital, Anglia Ruskin university and Harlow college, will he consider using some of that £600 million to boost the number of new UTCs?

Thanks to the generosity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and not to any negotiating skill on my behalf, there are sufficient resources in the Department for Education budget to support high quality university technical college submissions. It will be on the quality of the bids that a decision is made.