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Institutional Partnerships: Further and Higher Education

Volume 736: debated on Monday 17 July 2023

16. What steps she is taking to increase partnerships between further education colleges and higher education institutions to help increase learning opportunities. (906012)

We are transforming tertiary education by building state of the art prestigious institute of technology colleges, backed by £300 million and led by further education and higher education businesses. We have also introduced the lifelong loan entitlement—it is in the House of Lords at the moment. That will allow higher and further education to collaborate, offering short courses and the transfer of courses between FE and HE institutions.

Last week, I met representatives of the National Farmers Union at the Great Yorkshire Show. We discussed the great need for new skills and a skilled workforce in areas such as agro-ecology. What work is his Department doing to link specialist agricultural colleges with the non-specialist FE and HE sector?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We have good land colleges and we are doing everything we can to support them. There are two institute of technology colleges in Yorkshire, although not in his area. I am sure that he will be pleased with the investment of £88 million in his area into FE, sixth form and the university technical college, as well as a grammar school. We are doing a lot of work on agricultural T-levels as well.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to work with employers, local authorities and jobcentres to ensure that as many adults as possible are aware of the opportunities available to them to learn and upskill?

My right hon. Friend speaks with huge wisdom. We are transforming careers advice through the National Careers Service, which is advising people on adult skills. We are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on boot camps and on more than 400 free level 3 courses. Our apprenticeship scheme offers hundreds of different apprenticeships. Through careers advice and our skills offer, we are ensuring that adults get the skills they need.

As a working-class kid from the constituency I now represent, I am not sure where I would be today if not for the opportunity I had to study for a so-called “Mickey Mouse degree” at university. After today’s media push and the Government’s apparent crackdown on students, how does the Minister expect us to believe that this is not just a ruse to protect the privileges of the Timothies and Tabithas of the home counties, as opposed to working-class kids?

The hon. Gentleman could not be more wrong. Why is it right to send somebody to a higher education institution, taking out a significant loan of £9,250 each year, to take a course that leads either to poor completion, poor continuation or poor progression? This Government are stopping that by imposing recruitment caps on such courses. I am proud that record numbers of disadvantaged students are going to university. More disadvantaged students are going to university than ever before.

Parents and pupils across Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke wait anxiously to find out the result of the fantastic bid made by the further education City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College and the higher education Staffordshire University for a free school to unleash the digital skills, in particular, that we want to see in Stoke-on-Trent. Will my right hon. Friend lobby the Schools Minister and the Secretary of State not only to make sure this is announced soon, but to make sure it is delivered quickly so that we get the school places we so desperately need?

I was very pleased to visit Staffordshire University, which is a model university that offers a brilliant policing degree apprenticeship scheme, among others. The Secretary of State is listening carefully to the bid, and I am sure she will make the announcement shortly.

The introduction of the lifelong loan entitlement, which we all support, will inevitably require greater collaboration between higher education and further education providers, but under the current regulatory system, as the lines between HE and FE blur, we are seeing significant regulatory duplication and increased burden. This acts as a brake on partnership. Does the Minister not recognise the need to streamline the regulatory system to foster collaboration ahead of, rather than after, the introduction of the LLE?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the lifelong loan entitlement of up to £37,000 will be transformative for millions of people across the country, enabling them to take short or modular courses at a time of their choosing. We are looking at regulation across the higher education and further education sector, and we are doing all we can to reduce it, but I recognise some of the issues he raises.