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3 February 2021

Unlock Potential of Colleges to Secure a Sustainable and Prosperous Wales for Future Generations

With less than 100 days to go until the next Senedd election, a new report from leading experts across education and business is calling for colleges and lifelong learning to be made central to Wales's recovery plans and securing a progressive, sustainable and prosperous nation for future generations.

The Independent Commission on the College of the Future has set out its vision and roadmap for the future of colleges in Wales.

Colleges should be at the heart of responding to the climate emergency, sustaining and promoting the Welsh language and the nation’s wider culture, and building a more equitable society, the report says. Commissioners call for more effective ways to invest in and govern colleges so they can encourage more people to train, upskill or acquire new skills. This will equip people with the right skills throughout their lives as the world changes at pace.

Currently, the restructuring of the college system through previous reforms means that colleges are increasingly able to together support people, increase productivity and strengthen communities. There are exemplary practices in how colleges work with each other, businesses and other institutions across the education system.

Today’s report calls for the current policy trajectory of collaboration in Wales to go further to ensure that the education and skills system keeps up what the future of Wales and the world will need. The new report, The College of the Future for Wales, is calling for a radical shift in the role of colleges in the future vision of education and training in Wales so that they can truly deliver on the lifelong learning that is needed:

  1. Creating a national vision for skills and lifelong learning and making it a reality through a holistic, coherent and equitable post-compulsory education and training system that has a single funding and regulatory body.
  2. Tackling inequalities and delivering for people of all ages by establishing a statutory right to lifelong learning to ensure quality education for all, with cost never a barrier to upskilling and retraining and students able to access and navigate the maintenance support they need.
  3. Ensuring colleges are empowered to collaborate to support their communities to thrive by establishing a legal duty on governing bodies to consider wider regional needs and the role of other providers, and colleges being represented in every Public Service Boards (PSBs) in the delivery of the Future Generations Act.
  4. Strategically supporting businesses with skills and innovation by coordinating sector or occupation-focussed support through employer hubs, with colleges convening strategic support to employers, sole traders and entrepreneurs.
  5. Driving the digital transformation of the college network and the wider Welsh economy through the creation of digital community hubs in colleges and setting up a fund for digital learning and infrastructure.

David Jones OBE DL, Former CEO, Coleg Cambria and Commissioner, said:

“Colleges across Wales are already key institutions in their communities, delivering for local people and businesses. The transformations we face necessitate a scale of ambition that demands radical reform for colleges. The Commission has consulted extensively with stakeholders across Wales, and the UK as a whole. This report, alongside others across the four nations, sets out an ambitious agenda of further development for the fantastic college sector in Wales.

“We must grasp this opportunity for change so that colleges can deliver lifelong learning fit for the future, which drives the prosperity and innovation for our businesses. Recognising the challenges of COVID-19, the sector must now kick-on to the next level. This means modernising further to realise the benefits of digital in their operations and as providers for business and communities; confidently partnering with others in the education system; and putting the needs of future generations at the heart of their missions.”

Professor Ellen Hazelkorn, author of the review of the oversight of post-compulsory education in Wales and Commissioner, said:

“The coronavirus pandemic has forced society to realise that the people we have depended upon to keep manufacturing, our hospitals and health care centres, and communities going are often those with vocational training. Colleges in Wales are central to this and need to have a renewed focus for to empower them to keep up with transformations. Building a more seamless post-secondary education system has to be the direction of travel, mirroring the shifts other counties are taking. Now is the time for Government, colleges and universities, and others to work together in new ways to address long-standing challenges.”

Kathryn Roberts, Chair of CBI Wales, said:

“This report comes at a time when businesses across the Welsh economy are facing unprecedented challenges. If we are to survive and thrive then colleges will be an important part of the success of businesses. As businesses we want to see even more college staff spending time with us as part of strategic partnerships. That’s why the case the Commission makes for employer hubs is so exciting. SMEs especially would value an interface for working with colleges for skills support, and for coaching and innovation support. Collaboration will be key to success.”

Shavanah Taj, General Secretary of Wales TUC, said:

“We have to make getting people ready for the new challenges of the world of work a priority in Wales, now and as we look ahead to 2030. For too many people, lifelong learning feels out of reach. That’s why I am pleased to see recommendations today from the Independent Commission on the College of the Future that would ensure commitment to lifelong learning with a right to student support which meets the needs of people when they need it.”

Becky Ricketts, NUS Wales President, said:

“Our manifesto highlights the continuing challenges facing students in Wales, and we believe that the recommendations within this report can play a major role in solving many of them. The Welsh tertiary education sector needs reform and must reflect the needs of all in Wales. A national vision of collaboration and equity of access is a vital first step.”

Guy Lacey, ColegauCymru Chair and Principal of Coleg Gwent, who will join other guest speakers from across the FE sector at the launch event, said:

“Social justice is at the heart of further education colleges. The sector is focused on serving our communities, but we know we can do more with the right support and resources. Meeting the needs of the future is a challenge for colleges across the UK. Today’s report, with its focus on people, prosperity and place, makes recommendations on the key issues facing much of the sector. The sharing of knowledge and expertise across all four nations will be essential as we look to create a sector that is fit for purpose well into the future.”


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