The white paper sets out a vision for the future of skills across England. The resources both physical and human needed to deliver and respond to this challenge are significant and require innovation and collaborative working. In the West of England region, two partners in the education world have joined forces to drive a unique implementation programme. UWE Bristol and Weston College, both giants in the world of higher and further education have almost 20 years of partnership working between them but from September 2021 they are tackling a skills issue across the Bristol region – together!
Why is this happening? The combined and joint working experience of the two organisations is clearly greater than the sum of the parts. The Vice Chancellor of UWE Bristol Professor Steve West commented:
“The need to focus on skills and education to level-up and build for the future is essential and now is the time to be bold and ambitious with partners as we recover from a global pandemic.”
His words were complemented by Dr Paul Phillips CBE, Principal & Chief Executive of Weston College:
“If we jigsaw our combined skills portfolio which includes an Institute of Technology ( IoT) and a Centre for Excellence we can grab this nettle and produce the skills continuum that is missing.”
Both individuals believe that their proposal makes sense at so many levels and moreover that this is a Level 3 pilot in the making that they hope Department for Education and others will see as having the potential to influence and change perception of education. Their model is simply two organisations providing the thrust of development that can influence the response of young people and adults alike. This is a boldness in approach that has a freshness, a vitality that will appear to a wide audience. So, what does this future look like. Already ahead of launching in the Autumn Term both organisations have piloted Level 3 activity under a joint brand and yes there is a market – which is already reaching undiscovered potential.
Both organisations were keen to emphasise that resource is more important at this stage than a single building or location, Dr Phillips added:
“We need to be responsive at a number of levels including type of curriculum, location of delivery and mode of deliver.”
Whilst Professor West stated:
“The Government needs to support inclusive innovative examples of collaboration that encourages institutions, businesses and communities to work together to improve the health, wealth and opportunities of the nation.”
Like so many initiatives to develop this model and take it to its full potential will require investment. Both leaders hope that this is the type of project that will gain funding in the future from both a revenue and capital perspective. The institutions believe in this approach and have already invested and speculated to accumulate. Their accumulation however is an agile response to an urgent skills demand. Learner, Florin Mitroi who was engaged in the pilot commented:
“Due to this partnership I have been able to access top class teaching within state-of-the-art facilities right on my doorstep in Bristol – plus I have benefited from the Government Lifetime Skills Guarantee funding to pay for this course; all of this will help me to secure a new job, with options to progress afterwards and continue with training.”
Dr Phillips concluded:
“We know the objective of the ‘skills for jobs’ white paper. Its intention to reform post -16 technical education and training to increase productivity is already clear. The UWE Bristol/Weston College partnership is already ahead of the game and will transform the opportunities for learners right across our region.”