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Higher Education: T-Levels

Volume 819: debated on Thursday 24 February 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the acceptance of T Levels by Higher Education institutions for candidates for admission to universities via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) in the current application cycle.

My Lords, we recently published a list of higher education providers that will accept T-levels. Some 118 higher education providers, of which 78 are English universities, have so far agreed to accept applications from T-level students. This overall figure has increased from 75 since December last year, and we expect it to continue to grow.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very helpful response and the progress that has been made. Given the importance of students and parents having every opportunity to find out about T-levels, alongside other routes into intended careers, what further steps are the Government considering to better ensure that parents and students receive the right kind of information and advice at the right time? Might the Minister consider bringing together those with a specific contribution to make in addressing these and other issues to ensure the success and full take-up of T-levels in advance of the next admissions cycle?

In response to the last part of the right reverend Prelate’s question, I say that we would be delighted. We are already hosting a number of round tables, particularly with higher education providers, and would be glad to widen that circle and learn from his expertise and that of others like him. We are working hard to engage with the sector directly. We are providing support and resources so that students can find the course that is right for them.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we need a better picture of universities— 115 is the figure I had found as well—that might sometimes offer only one or two courses? Students need a better picture of what they are signing up to and what they are removing themselves from if they take the T-level option. Will the Government look at how A-level options can work with the T-level, as they currently do with BTECs?

To the best of my knowledge there are no plans to look at the noble Lord’s second proposal, because a single T-level is equivalent to three A-levels, so it would perhaps be unrealistic to do that. We are obviously in the very early stages of T-levels. We currently have 11 T-level options, I think. There was some confusion in the early stages about some of the content of those courses and how that translated to universities. However, we remain optimistic about the potential of T-levels.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the most important aspects of T-levels is that students have to spend nine weeks of work experience with a local firm? This is quite difficult to find even in the great metropolitan areas, but in areas of deprivation and in rural areas it is very difficult indeed to find such placements. What inducements will the Government provide for firms in those areas to take part? I remind your Lordships of my interest as chairman of the Chartered Institution for Further Education.

I absolutely agree with my noble friend about the value of work experience and the whole philosophy of T-levels—that students undertaking them will be work-ready. I am aware that there has been disruption to opportunities for work experience—caused principally by the pandemic—but, having designed the qualification with employers, we remain confident that those opportunities will emerge.

My question follows rather well from the previous question. In the information to employers, the Government say:

“At the heart of each course, a 45-day industry placement will give you early access to the brightest talent entering your market”.

How are we going to ensure that this happens? The Minister has responded to that point, but what oversight will there be to ensure that this really is good-quality work experience?

I am happy to write to the noble Baroness and send more details on the oversight. We know that local colleges are working closely with their employers so that the framework and aspirations of T-levels will be delivered most effectively.

My Lords, the Minister will appreciate that further education, technical education and engineering have had a devastating time over the last decade, with the failure of the Government to sustain anything like the resources which colleges needed. If we are to make a success of the qualifications, let us make no bones about it, that is what students and their parents and those who look after them will look at closely. They will be keen to see what credibility is attached to this development. Will the Government give the assurance that it will be a high priority?

It is absolutely a high priority for this Government. Within the department, we have three key areas of focus: skills, schools and families. I hope I can reassure the noble Lord that we are all very focused on this issue.

My Lords, it is important that we make the T-levels the success that they should be for vocational education as a whole. I am not sure the Minister properly answered the question about rural areas, where there will be a much narrower choice of options and students will struggle to find employers who will give placements. Could encouragement be given to those employers through financial incentives?

I will gladly take the noble Lord’s suggestion back to the department. Obviously, the colleges can deliver the T-levels that they believe will be most relevant in their community and where work experience exists.

My Lords, closely tied in with the emergence of T-levels is the fate of BTEC qualifications. Are the Government confident that the range of opportunities aside from A-levels that will be available to all students once T-levels have been phased in will be wide enough to encompass the many students who may have special needs or special abilities—sometimes those things go together—which are best served currently by BTEC? I ask particularly, given that the Government declined to extend the life of BTECs by more than a very short amount in the Bill.

I understand the noble Baroness’s concern. Of course we want to make sure that young people in this country have the range of opportunities that they deserve, and that the industries and employers get the range of skills they need to be able to deliver. The Wolf review and the Sainsbury review were clear that things needed to change in terms of technical and vocational qualifications, and we are addressing those recommendations.

Will my noble friend give the House a little more information about what the Government are doing to try to secure opportunities among employers, in rural areas in particular, to which my noble friend Lord Lingfield referred?

I will try to answer that question twice. I can only reiterate what I said to the noble Lord, Lord Storey; namely, that local colleges will choose the courses most appropriate in their communities and work with employers to deliver those experiences.

My Lords, if T-levels are to be a success—we on these Benches very much want them to be—there are two issues. One has been raised by the noble Lords, Lord Lingfield and Lord Storey, which is the question of placements. The other is the question of recognition by universities. The list on the DfE website of the 118 higher education providers, which the Minister referred to, that will accept T-levels for entry is welcome and encouraging, but only 10 of the 24 Russell group universities are on that list. What are the Government doing to encourage more of these institutions to recognise T-levels, as a means of widening the access for young people from less well-off families to the more selective universities?

I will answer the noble Lord in two parts. First, we are working closely and engaging actively with a number of universities, including those in the Russell group. I am sure that he will share my pleasure in seeing that the number of applicants to universities in England from the most disadvantaged backgrounds rose by 10% year on year in January 2022, which is perhaps not an outcome we would have expected. Equally, the point of T-levels is to give the students who take them choice. For some students that will be university, for some it will be Russell group, for others it will be going straight into employment, and for others it will be further qualifications at different levels. Choice is essential.