The budget for Higher Education and Skills aligned to previously announced priorities in respect of STEM subjects, employability and re-skilling and research linked to cutting edge technology.
Three initiatives have been introduced for the ‘lifelong learning’ sector, with this phraseology very much making a comeback. A ‘National Retraining Partnership; will be launched with the TUC and the CBI, which will work with new Skills Advisory Panels to ensure that local economies’ needs are reflected. Initially the Partnership will focus on construction and digital skills, with the use of AI and EdTech to be explored through a £30 million scheme to investigate these emerging technologies. £8.5 million will also be invested to support Unionlearn, to encourage learning in the workplace.
The matter of GCSE Maths resits is raised, through reference to a £8.5 million pilot which is intended to provide innovative approaches to improving outcomes. This would suggest that there are no immediate plans to deviate from this much-discussed policy.
In addition, colleges with students taking Maths or Further Maths A levels or Core Maths to Level 3, will receive an extra £600 per learner in these subjects. At a time of funding constraint, this is welcome, though attracting high numbers of learners to this, initially, uncapped, funding opportunity may be a challenge.
T Levels are noted, with up to £20 million to be invested in helping teaching staff prepare for this change.
Access to study STEM subjects at HE level has often been impeded by prior attainment, and the budget notes that the investment in maths and technical education should assist in this regard. The government also commits to review gender imbalance in respect of studying STEM subjects at pre-HE levels.
The government confirms that the Industrial Strategy white paper will explain in more detail how the increasing spend on research and development (£12.5 billion per annum by 2021/22) will be deployed. However, it is noted that this will include support for creative and digital industries and the service sector through immersive technology, AI and machine learning; to improve productivity in the construction sector and to grow the next generation of research talent and ensure that the UK is able to attract and retain the best academic leaders globally. This will benefit those institutions with specialisms in the digital, technology and AI space.
As part of encouraging innovation and research and development, immigration rules will be made easier for those ‘world-leading scientists and researchers’ and ‘highly skilled students’ to stay in the UK. It is also planned to allow the UK’s research councils and other select organisations to sponsor researchers. This will assist some universities, however the sector may have welcomed a wider announcement about international students, given the UK demographics and Brexit impact on EU students.