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Consultation aims to strengthen England’s high level skills base


A consultation to build stronger and more flexible links between business and universities has been launched. The High Level Skills consultation will seek views from employers, students, colleges and universities on how to raise the skills of those already in work and also ensure graduates are equipped with the knowledge and abilities that businesses need to compete globally.

The independent Leitch review of the nation's skills requirements, carried out in 2006, highlighted the need for a significant increase in the proportion of workers with high level skills. With around three quarters of the 2020 workforce having already left compulsory education, new types of higher education provision need to be created to compliment traditional models, including more flexible courses designed and co-funded by employers.

Key areas of the consultation include:

* How business, trade unions, employers and employees can work better together to encourage demand for high level skills

* What incentives are working/required to encourage colleges and universities to be more responsive to business and employer demand

* What support or incentives would help colleges and universities extend access to work placements to all their students

* How employers can become more involved in providing careers information, advice and guidance for pupils during their entire education

* How to increase the number of people with the specialist qualifications that many businesses desire such as languages and science, technology, engineering and mathematics

Minister of state for higher education Bill Rammell said:

"Thirty one per cent of the population are currently qualified to degree level or above. To meet the economic challenge posed by rapidly-developing countries such as China and India, and to retain Britain's position as a key knowledge economy, we have to get more people in the workforce qualified to a higher level, at least 40 per cent by 2020.

"Our higher education system is already world class but we can do even more to equip graduates and those already in work with the higher level skills demanded by employers. Every university, college and employer should be thinking hard about how it can respond to this important challenge.

"Research suggests that approximately four million people are already considering or would consider higher education and a further six million could be persuaded under the right circumstances. There is latent demand for higher level skills within the workforce but releasing it will require changes to the design, delivery and funding of learning to be more responsive to employer needs".

Mike Harris, head of education and skills at the Institute of Directors, said:

"We welcome this consultation. Creating more extensive and structured links between employers and the education system, at all levels, is crucial. There are pockets of excellent practice in the higher education sector already - some institutions have enthusiastically embraced the employer engagement agenda and, together with many colleges, are very responsive to employers' skills needs.

"What is now required is to foster this attitude across the entire sector, spreading best practice and overcoming any structural barriers, for example funding mechanisms, that exist. We must also make sure that the process is fully inclusive of small companies."

Professor Deian Hopkin, chair, Universities UK skills task group, said:

"We welcome the central aim of this report to raise higher level skills levels in the workforce. It builds on many of the recommendations from Lord Leitch's report which emphasised the crucial importance of higher level skills. Universities have a key part to play in this and welcome the opportunity to do so. The sector is already extensively engaged with employers - for example through the UUK CBI joint partnership - to ensure that together, we deliver the workforce needed for a highly skilled, knowledge-based economy."

Last year the government announced new moves to foster closer ties between universities and industry, with an aim of 20,000 full-time equivalent additional students being co-funded by employers and the Higher Education Funding Council for England by 2010/11.

This twelve week consultation will be explicitly driven by the demand from businesses, employers and students, and will be used to set out the government's vision for increasing employer engagement in higher education.


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