Vince Cable is calling for a new generation of specialist colleges to help address the high-level vocational skills gap that is emerging in this country.
The business secretary said in a recent speech to the Cambridge Public Policy that the National Colleges will serve as “national centres of expertise in key areas of the economy”. To this end, the courses they offer will be employer-focused, supplementing academic knowledge with practical skills.
He also called for a greater take-up of existing provisions for high-level vocational training among employers, adding that there are already a number of quality schemes for which competition among potential trainees is fierce.
Among these, the business secretary name checked those higher apprenticeships offered by companies such as Rolls-Royce and Jaguar Land Rover, which he likened to Oxbridge, in terms of the levels of competition for entry.
In the lecture, Mr Cable also spoke about the advantages that higher apprenticeships and vocational training offer to both employers and individuals - a recognition of this among more businesses would help make these courses “the norm rather than a niche”, he added.
“If we are to have credible, high-level vocational programmes - which are a legitimate and equally prestigious alternative to the traditional undergraduate route - older school leavers should be able to consider them alongside university graduates,” he said.
The government has already announced funding for three centres of expertise, including a specialist college for the High Speed 2 rail project, an engineering training facility at Coventry’s Manufacturing Technology Centre and a college specialising in training individuals to decommission nuclear reactors.
In addition to these steps, Mr Cable has also spoken to university clearing service Ucas about the potential for integrating higher-level apprenticeships into the organisation’s service, in a bid to open them up further and raise their credibility.
“If we are to have credible, high-level vocational programmes, which are a legitimate and equally prestigious alternative to the traditional undergraduate route, older school leavers should be able to consider them alongside university options.”