The UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has today published research paper by Frontier examining the market for Further Education (FE) in England. The report explores which aspects of the market are working well, or less well, to deliver effective outcomes for learners, and assesses the barriers to effective delivery.
FE in England refers to any study taken after the age of 16 that is not part of an undergraduate or post-graduate degree programme. FE providers play a critical role in equipping learners with the skills they need to continue their education or to enter employment, offering an extensive range of academic and vocational study options. The FE sector is undergoing substantial reform, putting greater power in the hands of learners, employers and local areas. These reforms, such as those recommended by Lord Sainsbury’s panel and to apprenticeships are addressing some of the challenges identified in the report.
Our report finds that many aspects of the market are working well, but does identify some key challenges:
- Learners are not always supported appropriately to make choices that lead to the best FE or labour market outcomes for them. Particular issues include a lack of impartial advice for young people at school; the need to strengthen links between potential learners and employers; and the need for more targeted information and approaches to engaging “hard to reach” groups.
- FE providers are not always as responsive to learners and employers as they could be. It is not always clear how poor providers can exit the market; quality assessments must be appropriate and timely; and funding should not unduly inhibit flexibility to local market conditions or hinder changes to provision where there is local, regional or national demand.
- Policymakers should recognise the limitations of competition in some parts of the market. There are areas of the FE market where competition from several providers is not viable, and so alternative mechanisms for incentivising efficiency, quality and innovation will need to be considered.
- Policy and regulation within the sector creates incentives which need to be carefully managed. Examples include interdependencies and risks to quality created by significant sub-contracting, and uncertainty created by short lead times for funding allocations.
Frontier regularly advises public sector organisations about education and skills policy and competition in public service delivery.
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