UVAC 2010 Conference reports

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Article publication date: 4 October 2011



(2011), "UVAC 2010 Conference reports", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 1 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/heswbl.2011.50501baa.003



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

UVAC 2010 Conference reports

UVAC 2010 Conference reports

Article Type: Conferences From: Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Volume 1, Issue 2.

UVAC Conference 11-12th November 2010, Royal York Hotel

Paul GibbsEditor-in-Chief

The 2010 UVAC Conference was attended by approximately 150 delegates, who enjoyed a blend of plenary, keynote sessions and discussion-based workshops on both days. The gathering provided opportunities to hear from keynotes and specialist alike during the two days of the conference and it provided networking opportunities in a social setting. Below are summaries from the keynotes of their keynotes (David Docherty contribution forms his commentary piece). Presentations of the keynotes and workshops are available at the UVAC website.

The big picture: higher level skills, the economy, business and the workforce need. What's the role of HE?

Professor John CoyneVice Chancellor, University of Derby

The discussions regarding the future of higher education and the responses to the Browne Report have been extensive and at times heated. A coincidence of factors has brought together an almost perfect storm within which to try to resolve future directions: an economy recovering from deep recession, fiscal austerity, a change of government (with the unexpected coalition) and a fundamental report commissioned by Lord Mandelson when the future outlook was very different.

The backcloth that has endured through all this is that of an increasingly competitive world economy and the rise of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) with the latter enjoying double-digit growth rates and a rising middle class. The economic challenge for a mature developed economy is to leverage the capacities that arise from the knowledge base that has been developed and to ensure that we can compete in the higher echelons of the value chain. Much of this challenge was recognised in the Leitch report and beyond.

The development of “higher level skills” and an appetite for investment from individuals, companies and the state is a crucial component in the building of a prosperous future economy in which we can enjoy not only material well being but also a societal context that is civilised, caring, inclusive and enriching. To do this requires imagination, new thinking, flexible models of engagement for all participants and a clear understanding that the route to learning can be complex. The academy needs to engage outside its walls and we need to recognise that learning environments can be found in many and varied contexts.

It has been a crucial aspect of the debate on higher learning that has been absent in much of the post Browne discussion. Much of the argument has been conducted against a construct of the university, its curriculum and its participants that reflects where we once were rather than where we need to be. Is this a conscious desire to re-frame around tradition or is it simply an accidental omission in the immediacy of the current debate? It is too important an issue on which to remain silent. There is a need to ensure that a voice for innovative routes to learning and partnership engagement in the delivery of learning – the meat and drink of the UVAC community – is heard. There are many more constituencies that we need to reach out to than the narrow population of “traditional” school leavers.

We need to engage this argument. Promote corporate engagement with learning and explore even more vigorously imaginative ways to ensure high-quality delivery. And as we do so we must also ensure that there is clear recognition that higher education is not simply a linear, utilitarian, economic return-driven endeavour. It is the route through which we all enrich our lives, our understanding and our perception of self. It is how we become the people we have the potential to be and it is how we develop the ability to help – even inspire – others.

Where next? An independent perspective on the role of government in workforce development

James KewinManaging Director, CFE

The presentation explored the role that government has historically played in workforce development and focused on the policy assumptions that have underpinned government interventions in the post-Leitch world. In particular, James challenged the assumption that productivity (at a micro or macro level) can be increased simply by increasing the number of individuals in the workforce that hold qualifications, or that the demand for skills from employers can be increased by focusing on supply side reform. There was also a detailed examination of the role that government has played in shaping the supply of, and demand for, so called “employer-led” skills in recent years. The presentation concluded with an assessment of the coalition government's plans for higher level workforce development. The economic climate, rise in unemployment and cuts in public spending present significant challenges to all those involved in workforce development. Despite this, the coalition have had very little to say about higher level workforce development and it is clear that for the foreseeable future, the focus will be on the fees and funding debate triggered by the Browne review.

The sell message: how to sell the right HE service to employers and employees

Steve AlcottOperations Manager, Intelligent Career Development Limited (i-CD Ltd), University of Wolverhampton

Intelligent Career Development (i-CD) is a standalone division of The University of Wolverhampton and was formed with the intention of delivering a range of distance, blended educational programmes. The initial remit was to address the higher education needs of people in a level four or five work role, via vocationally biased 20 credit programmes at foundation degree level.

To identify target subject matter, i-CD has a small team who conduct research within local employers in order to ascertain areas of consistent performance shortfall. The research generates a commissioning document called a performance need analysis, this document attempts to capture current performance, required performance and the performance gap itself alongside other information required to develop the vocational element of the programme.

Completed research is directed to an appropriate school who then work with the university's Institute for Learning Enhancement to develop the material and utilise a bespoke pedagogy to generate the final blended product.

i-CD positions itself on the edge of the university and operates on a purely commercial basis. i-CD systems, process and procedure dovetail directly into the core university itself, giving customers access to vocationally targeted higher education, but without the need to engage with the institution – other than for the actual delivery of the programme itself. Feedback from customers indicates that they value i-CD as a portal into higher education and place great value on the brokerage offered as it negates the need for them to engage with multiple schools and departments, whilst promoting access to a range of targeted short programmes.

Recently, the West Midlands Regional Observatory has published research into the higher education needs of local business. i-CD has taken this as an indicator for further research, and is currently conducting research and developing material targeted specifically at the need identified.

Higher skills – employer needs — a personal perspective

Simon WitsBSc(Hons), FRAeS

The focus is on higher skills and not just over discussions on tuition fees and such like. With a welcome focus on vocational learning and skills and how to get practical programmes of delivery all over the UK and beyond, higher skills are now in the frame in a way in which they have not been for some considerable time.

By way of background, employers clearly need a standard by which to measure the competence of applicants and by which they can measure employee progression and skills development. They benefit from a workforce which is better qualified and well trained but do not generally see things in academic level terms nor the “glass ceilings/barriers” between schools, further education and higher education. They need to clearly focus on jobs, skills and competencies and progression.

Qualifications have a mixed response when discussed within an employer world. Many would say that they have no place beyond the entry requirements for the job, i.e. GCSE/A Levels in an English framework. However, more recently, debate, discussion and activity has shown that appropriate qualifications can be remarkably effective in meeting employer needs. Higher qualifications such as foundation degrees often offer a way into higher education for employees that missed this path. New “Professional Apprenticeships” offer an integrated framework. Degrees/PhDs/MBAs can accredit skills at higher level.

Employees who failed or performed poorly in their academic learning need to be motivated to participate in training. They need to build recognition for achievement in their working life. Vocational training needs to have a “currency” that can add “value” to the employee's CV. Vocational qualifications should complement academic qualifications and not compete with them.

Businesses need universities and universities need businesses. Businesses need help to structure their approach to recruitment/progression to make it easier for higher education engagement. Higher education needs to think about new approaches and techniques to match the needs of employers (e.g. New Professional Apprenticeships).

New Tools are available; success stories are out there; we need to do more of it – and soon!

Funding workforce development: variable fees, employer co-funding and how the HE funding system supports workforce development

David SweeneyDirector of Research, Innovation and Skills, HEFCE

HEFCE's Workforce Development Programme was intended to help deliver the high levels needed to improve productivity. Reflecting the national interest, the university interest, the employer interest and the employee interest this initiative was co-funded, both to build capacity and to deliver provision. Ninety-three universities delivered co-funded provision and target numbers have been achieved thus far. Many employers have been in course design and curriculum development.

Although proposals have not yet been developed post-Browne Review, it is clear that this model will require adaption for the new teaching funding system. There will be less emphasis on policy implementation through funding mechanisms and more dependence upon the market to shape provision. In doing this, employers will form a key element in the market. The availability of up-front student support for moderate-intensity part-time study is the way in which public funding will be deployed but there will be withdrawal from “across-the-board” subsidies.

The investment in employer co-funding has stimulated the development of a market, lowering the barriers to entry, demonstrating the viability of workforce development programmes within institutional offerings and demonstrating the value of those courses to employers. To build on this success universities and employers will have to distill lessons from the years of subsidized funding.

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