By Jonathan Davies
Skilled workers "may vanish" from the UK's workforce if further government cuts in education are allowed to continue, according to a labour market expert.
Professor Alison Wolf, a driving force behind the government's vocational education plans and author of a report on the subject, said the unchecked expansion of universities could collapse the further education system and risks losing technicians and mechanics.
“I think we should be very alarmed about this — it’s a serious potential crisis,” said Professor Wolf.
She argued that “unstable, inefficient, untenable and unjust” funding if destroying education for school-leavers outside of university.
“It damages and affects the nature of the industrial structure of this country. If you create a system in which vocational training can’t be funded, that is going to have a knock-on effect on which parts of the economy flourish and which don’t.”
Wolf suggests that those most likely to suffer, in terms of business, are small manufacturing businesses in the West Midlands. Naturally, smaller firms will not be able to compete with larger businesses when it comes to funding in-work training.
The government had put a huge focus on increasing apprenticeship. But Wolf believes that funding extra apprenticeships by reducing further education colleges will have a detrimental effect: “In post-19 education, we are producing vanishingly small numbers of higher technician-level qualifications, while massively increasing the output of generalist bachelors degrees and low-level vocational qualifications."
“If you are a 19-year-old and the choice is between a declining number of places in struggling institutions being funded a little over £2,000 a year, or open doors at another institution with uncapped ability to recruit where the government is underwriting fees of £9,000 a year, where are you going to go?
“What we have in this country are universities that are big global institutions, that are essentially academic and concerned with research. They are not good places to be doing highly technical training that is industry-facing and rooted in the local economy.
“To put it bluntly, why do it for £9,000 a head at an institution that was trying to be global or at least national, when you could better off at a different sort of institution for a lower cost? This is no way to run whelk stalls, never mind a national economy. It’s ridiculously expensive and it isn’t even the best quality.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovations and Skills said: “The government is committed to creating three million apprenticeship starts by 2020 and will continue to work with colleges and business to ensure that happens. We will continue to focus investment in areas that have the most impact on increasing the skills of our workforce and help increase productivity across the county.”