Skills for Jobs White Paper

– in the House of Commons at 1:08 pm on 21st January 2021.

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Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education 1:08 pm, 21st January 2021

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the publication of a Skills for Jobs White Paper on the next steps for post-16 education reform.

Last October, I notified the House of our plans to introduce a dynamic programme of measures to reshape this country’s further and technical education landscape, which is a key part of our mission to empower everyone in this country and level up those areas that have been overlooked and under-resourced for too long.

I informed hon. and right hon. Members that the details of how we would do this would be spelled out in a White Paper, and I am pleased to announce its publication today.

The House needs no reminding that this country stands at a critical point in its history. We have some enormous challenges ahead. There is an urgent need to rebuild an economy injured by the covid pandemic. We have already outlined an unprecedented support package to protect jobs and offer retraining to those who have lost theirs due to covid-19, but beyond covid we must also forge a new identity as an independent trading nation. Both those challenges have exposed our need for a strong and flourishing technical education sector to fire up the jobs of the future.

This White Paper is our blueprint for that future. It will play a pivotal role in creating jobs and rebuilding our economy. Through the lifetime skills guarantee, we will help people train and retrain at any stage of their lives. Our new flexible digital skills bootcamp training will give people the technical skills they need for great jobs through 12 to 16-week courses, and those bootcamps will expand into other sectors, such as engineering. From this April, tens of thousands of adults will be able to benefit from almost 400 free courses, which will be the first phase in the lifetime skills guarantee. These fully funded courses, which range from engineering to healthcare and conservation, will be available to adults without a full qualification at A-level equivalent or above, to help them gain skills that are in demand and that will open up exciting job opportunities for them.

In April, we will also kickstart the expansion of higher technical education, as we work towards making it as easy to get a loan for an approved higher technical qualification as it is for a full-length degree. We will also introduce pilots to encourage more flexible and modular provision, so that courses are more accessible and convenient. Lifelong loan entitlement will be up and running from 2025 and will build on the changes we are bringing in through this White Paper. Learners will be able to fit study around work, family and personal commitments and retrain as their circumstances and the economy change.

This White Paper is going to put employers firmly at the centre of our local skills systems, working in partnership with colleges and key local stakeholders to shape technical skills provision, so that it better supports the local economy. It will introduce German-style local skills improvement plans, which will be led by business organisations such as local chambers of commerce. Those plans will identify the skills that an area needs and spell out what needs to change to make training more responsive to employers’ needs. In turn, our further education colleges will shape the courses they offer to meet those skills needs, and we will make strategic development funding available to help them do that. We will start the ball rolling with a small number of trailblazer areas this year, and we will pilot a strategic development fund of £65 million in 2021-22 to help providers reshape provision to meet local employers’ needs.

By putting the employer voice at the heart of skills provision, we will ensure that technical education and training gives people the skills they need to get great jobs in sectors that the economy needs and boost this country’s productivity. We will back this through £1.5 billion of capital funding to upgrade our further education colleges. Today we announced the next phase of the FE capital transformation fund, and last week we made the next wave of capital funding for T-level providers available, with £135 million available to those delivering them in September 2022.

As far as long-term plans are concerned, we are going to move to a more coherent, simpler funding model that we will design together with the sector, and we will consult on it later in the spring. It will ensure a far more focused approach to funding. The consultation will be guided by the principles of high value, greater flexibility for providers, and enhanced accountability, which will see providers taking greater responsibility for their results. By 2030, we expect nearly all technical courses to follow employer-led standards, so that we ensure that the education and training people receive are directly linked to the skills that they will need to get a job.

We will continue with our existing programme of reforms in areas such as employer-led apprenticeships and our T-level programme. All apprenticeship starts are now on employer-designed standards. We will support employers in making greater use of their levy contributions by improving the transfer system and having more flexible training models.

The White Paper will also extend our network of institutes of technology to every region of the country, and we will see a corresponding increase in higher-level technical skills in science, technology, engineering and maths. In this way, we will future-proof our workforce, so that we are ready to deal with a constantly evolving economic landscape.

All our reforms depend on our ability to recruit and retain top-quality teaching staff in the further education sector, so we will launch a national recruitment campaign for further education teachers, strengthen initial teacher education, improve the support that new teachers receive, and help to provide more opportunities for improved training and development, such as work experience, as part of our industry exchange programme.

When the Prime Minister announced the lifetime skills guarantee last year, he spoke of how we will align our further and higher education sectors. I can tell the House that we have published the interim conclusion of the review of post-18 education and funding, which addresses some of the key recommendations made by Dr Philip Augar in his report from 2019. I have laid copies of the report of Dame Shirley Pearce’s independent review of the teaching excellence and student outcomes framework, and the Government’s response, before both Houses of Parliament. Today I have also published the post-qualifications admission reform consultation, which seeks views on whether to change the system of higher education admissions and move to a system of post-qualification admissions.

Our proposed reform to the teaching grant for the academic year 2021-22 will allocate funding in a way that delivers value for money for students and the taxpayer, and increases support for strategic subjects such as engineering and medicine while slashing the taxpayer subsidy for such subjects as media studies. We want to ensure that our small and specialist providers, including some of our top music and arts providers, receive additional support, and that grant funding is used to support students effectively as well.

This spring, we will consult on further reforms to the higher education system, including the introduction of minimum entry requirements to higher education institutions and addressing the high cost of foundation years, before setting out a full response to the report, and a final conclusion to the review of post-18 education and funding, alongside the next comprehensive spending review.

The White Paper is a step change in how this country prepares people for their working lives. I know there is enormous cross-party consensus, and a real will on all sides of the House to make a real change in this sector—a change that has been needed for so long. I very much hope that all Members will work together to ensure that we can deliver on this. These proposals will ensure that people can learn the skills they need to get a great job, and have control over the means of ensuring a more fulfilling and productive life. This White Paper will be the lever to unleash our nation’s creativity and talents, and will make this country an economic force to be reckoned with. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Secretary of State for Education 1:19 pm, 21st January 2021

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.

Let me start by paying tribute to the learners and workers, unions and employers, and colleges and training providers who have done incredible work over many years in providing skills, jobs and opportunities in the face of a Government who, for the past 10 years, have been more interested in slashing the further education budget. I am glad that today, after a decade of cuts to funding and opportunities, the importance of further and technical education to our economy and people’s life chances has finally been recognised. But even when the Government get things right—and there are measures in this White Paper for which Labour has been calling for some time—they come too late for families, businesses and our country.

I support the principle of expanding the right to lifelong learning to include study for a level 3 qualification for those without one, but this will only serve to reverse the damage inflicted by years of Conservative Governments who cut learning entitlements and replaced them with loans, meaning that the number of adult learners plummeted. The Secretary of State said that he wants more talented individuals teaching in further education, but the cuts in FE funding over the past 10 years have led to huge cuts in real-terms wages, which is driving many talented teaching staff from the profession. While I welcome the principle of flexible funding to allow more learners to access the skills they need, the Secretary of State said that this will not be in place until 2025—years after those facing the risk of unemployment right now could have benefited. I am also concerned that the Government continue to pursue a system of loans that will plunge students into more debt and create barriers to learning.

On the lifetime skills guarantee, how did the Secretary of State decide which sectors would be included, and how many jobs in our economy are in sectors that have been omitted? Can the list of sectors change depending on the needs of individuals, employers and our wider economy? What conversations has he had with the metro Mayors and combined authorities about local skills needs? What support will be available to those who are not qualified to level 2, or are already qualified to level 3 but need to train for jobs in a new sector?

There is nothing here for community learning, English for speakers of other languages, or basic skills courses. What support will be available for these learners? What will be available to those who want to study towards higher technical qualifications other than new qualifications that are at least a year away from existing? Does the Secretary of State agree that we cannot have equality between further and higher education if only one of those routes benefits from maintenance support? When will the FE sector be given the long-term funding settlement that it deserves? Can he guarantee a sustainable settlement in the spending review this year?

We have already waited two years to get an interim response to the Augar review, and I remain concerned that the Secretary of State seems to be committed to a zero-sum game in which parts of HE have to lose—in funding, support or prestige—for others to gain. Does he agree that in fact the opposite is true—that we get the best results for individuals, communities and our country when they can get a world-class education by whatever route suits them, be it college, university or with an employer?On the teaching excellence framework, I am glad that the Secretary of State has finally abandoned the idea of a subject-level measure, as Universities UK, the University and College Union and Labour suggested he should, many months ago.

Most of all, the Secretary of State must surely realise that he has to act fast to address the disruption and uncertainty that our economy and labour market are experiencing. Almost one in 20 working-age people—1.7 million—are unemployed, and many more will feel their jobs are at risk. They are worried about paying the bills, about their jobs and about their future, yet what are they being told today by the Secretary of State? That they can access more training, but not for a few months; that they can access new qualifications, but not for a year; and that they can benefit from flexible finance, but not for five years. I urge him to go much faster in offering support to people who need it immediately. If we are to rebuild our economy from the ravages of the pandemic and secure people’s futures, we need action, and we need it urgently.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Lady raises a number of important points. I almost had the impression that she might even want to work together on a common cause, but we did not quite get to that point.

We recognise that we want to invest more in our further education estate. That is why we have put forward the £1.5 billion capital programme. We recognise that we want to put more into skills for all young people, and for people of all ages who recognise that they need to gain new skills to advance their prospects or enter a different place of work. That is why we put £2.5 billion behind the national skills fund. We recognise that we need to invest more in our colleges. That is why we have had record rises in 16-to-19 funding, not only last year but this year. We want to continue to work with the sector to strengthen it.

I certainly take on board a number of the challenges the hon. Lady throws down. I think there is a real appetite on both sides of the House to ensure that not just young people but people of every age have the flexibility to pick up the new skills required in such a rapidly changing economy. We always want to bring measures forward much faster than we can, and I am always happy to work with her to ensure that any changes we bring forward in this House have the enthusiastic support of Opposition. I note the Labour Deputy Chief Whip, Sir Alan Campbell, is in his place; I am sure he would be happy to facilitate that.

The measures will recast the post-16 education landscape. This is not about taking away from one to give to another; it is about making sure that all young people, whatever their choice, have a good choice. Our colleges are some of the greatest institutions in this country. They have such deep links with and roots in local communities, because so often they were forged out of those local communities by local businesses to satisfy local needs. We aim to bring those colleges back to the founding principles of further education and of their creation.

We want to deliver a revolution and reform of our college sector and our technical and vocational sector. Young people can achieve so much by having higher technical qualifications. For far too long, it has been felt that there is only one choice: to go to university. Actually, so often, taking a different route gives so much more to young people. We need to make sure that that message is out there. By taking it out there and making sure that colleges have the ability and support to deliver, we will literally change the future of hundreds of thousands of young lives, and the course of the lives of so many other people who need new skills to prosper and take on the new challenges they face.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Before we move on to the Chair of the Select Committee, I want to say that this statement will finish at 1.53 pm, so we will need brisk questions and brisk answers if we are to have any chance of getting through everybody.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

My first ever speech in the House of Commons was about apprenticeships and skills, so I give a huge welcome to the White Paper, and to Secretary of State’s passion for further education. The White Paper will help us to close our skills deficit and ensure that qualifications and training are led by employer needs. The lifetime skills guarantee and the flexible finance will allow disadvantaged people to climb the skills ladder of opportunity at any age.

I note that the White Paper says that young people tend to get careers advice from their family, but also that just 28% of parents are confident advising their children on apprenticeships. That plummets to 21% for technical and vocational options. It is therefore hugely welcome that the White Paper pledges to toughen up enforcement of the Baker clause, makes funding conditional on compliance, and lowers the age at which children must be offered independent careers advice at school, so that it is given to those in year 7. Will my right hon. Friend make it his mission to ensure that schools encourage skills, FE and apprenticeships as much as they do university, and will he consider establishing a real UCAS for FE and skills?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I know that my right hon. Friend has championed this not just in his maiden speech, but the whole time he has been in the House of Commons. He is absolutely right that it is not adequate to expect family members to be able to give young people the advice they need. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to Lord Baker of Dorking, who did so much in moving the amendment.

We need to toughen this up. I want to see parity of esteem—people looking at the choices they can take, and not just immediately moving to university. I would like UCAS to demonstrate that by having a list of college courses available to students, especially if we move to a system of post-qualification application. I think that colleges and what they can provide could be a much more powerful offer for so many young people.

I will happily take up my right hon. Friend’s thought about having a parallel system to UCAS. It may also be worth looking at the options for bringing it together and making sure that UCAS includes college courses so that students can make the very best decisions for their futures.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons)

Young people in my constituency of Blaydon need to know that they will have training opportunities for the jobs of the future, as well as the jobs we have now. How does this White Paper align with wider Government policy on the industrial strategy, and how do we plan the skills for future jobs?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Lady makes an important point, and that is why we set up the skills and productivity board to look at some of the challenges. For many businesses, one challenge is that they are not necessarily looking at taking people on through a graduate route, where someone has to learn skills over a three-year period; often, they are looking for much smaller, bite-sized training. That is why the boot camps that we are launching in areas such as digital training and advanced engineering are so incredibly important, to ensure that the sector has the responsiveness it needs to satisfy the skills needs that so many businesses in her constituency are crying out for.

Photo of Sara Britcliffe Sara Britcliffe Conservative, Hyndburn

A transformed further education system has the potential to unlock opportunity for so many young people, both in Hyndburn and Haslingden and across the country, by equipping them with the skills and training that they need to secure the jobs they want for the future. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as we look towards our economic recovery, investing in further education has never been more important?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend is so right, and many young people in her constituency will be looking for the opportunity to unlock their true potential. That will not always be through a university degree; so often, it is through our amazing further education colleges, which deliver for their communities. Making this investment and these reforms will enable them to go from strength to strength, while being absolutely rooted in the needs of the local economy. Let us make sure that we are training our young people with the skills that they need in order to get the jobs that are out there, as against skills that lead to no jobs.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

The rapidly changing workplace makes it vital that people can acquire new skills throughout their lifetime. However, we know that mature students are more averse to taking on debt, and they are often unable to take on long-term repayments if those repayments take them up to retirement. Instead of introducing a lifetime loan entitlement, will the Secretary of State look at introducing a lifetime grant, similar to the Liberal Democrat idea of a skills wallet, which would give every person up to £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their lifetime?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Lady will see that this is an expansive package of support for people who want to get training and skills, which is very much designed and fit for the modern economy and responsive enough to shift with changing labour market needs.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

In Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, I am blessed with ceramic manufacturing giants, such as Churchill China, that want to skill up locally, and exciting research and development companies such as Lucideon, which is hoping to open an advanced ceramics campus. A full-fibre academy is launching this year at Stoke-on-Trent College’s Burslem campus, paving the way to unleash silicon Stoke. Does my right hon. Friend agree that by ensuring that high-quality vocational courses are developed to employer-led standards, we can make sure they will deliver meaningful and tangible opportunities for young people?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I know that my hon. Friend has been championing the concept of silicon Stoke and ensuring that Stoke-on-Trent has not only the inward investment that is vital for the revitalisation of that great city but investment in the human capital, talent and resources that it has always had but that need enhancing. I look forward to working with him to ensure that that happens and that investment comes to the great city of Stoke-on-Trent.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement

I welcome the move towards local planning, and I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to what is happening at Lancaster and Morecambe College, whose principal, Wes Johnson, is also a director of the local chamber of commerce. Every time I visit that fantastic local college, I am told that uncertainty caused by short-term funding methodologies can create uncertainty in planning strategies for meeting the longer-term need of the community. When can the further education sector expect a long-term funding settlement?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

As the hon. Lady is aware, we had a one-year funding round this year. Every Secretary of State always aspires to a multi-year funding round, and I think there is very much cross-party agreement on that. We were able to secure one for schools, and I very much hope that in the future we will be in a position to secure one for post-16 education.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

Boosting skills will be critical for levelling up counties such as mine, Lincolnshire. Can my right hon. Friend assure me and everyone in the Grantham and Stamford constituency that our local colleges will receive the resources they need to fully achieve our ambitions for young people?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

In my hon. Friend’s constituency of Grantham and Stamford, there is already great provision in colleges. We want to make it even greater and make sure they have the resources to grow what they are doing. We want to make sure they are truly linked in with the local economy, because where there are skills shortages in his constituency, colleges are the first place that businesses turn to plug the gap. We want to make sure the economy and business are growing strongly and creating the employment that we all want in his constituency and all our constituencies.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (International Trade)

The chief executive of City & Guilds, Kirstie Donnelly, says that it is a disappointment that today’s statement focuses on existing announcements, instead of a clear vision for how we can collectively reimagine further education for the future. She also says that the Government should devolve power to the regions. In the Liverpool city region, we are ready to deliver the skills needed for the recovery from the pandemic. Will the Education Secretary make at least one new announcement today, and commit to giving the authority and resources needed to the regions to develop the technical learning that is needed for the recovery and the future?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Just a reminder that we need very brief questions if we are going to get through everybody.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Gentleman obviously could not be bothered to actually read the White Paper, so I will send him a copy. He will notice that there have been lots of new announcements.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

I welcome what my right hon. Friend set out, including the essential role of industry and the extension of employer-led standards. Will he say more about how local skills improvement plans will work, with the right emphasis on the sectors and job roles of the future that he is talking about today, and versatile transferable skills to maximise opportunities and social mobility?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I will take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for his work in enabling us to proceed with this skills for jobs White Paper. Without his commitment and dedication, including the odd skirmish with the Treasury, we would not have made the progress we have made with the institutes of technology, which are already starting to transform young people’s lives, and of course with T-levels.

On where we want to go, we really want business organisations to work with colleges, putting this on a statutory footing, very much like what we see in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, where they can co-design the qualifications they need and match the job needs of the local community. That will bring those businesses and the business sector into the heart of those colleges, ensuring that we drive employment and the right set of skills.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

West Thames College in Isleworth has a strong reputation, long developed, for providing courses across the range, including basic skills and English as a second language, but also locally specific courses developed in conjunction with employers, such as in aviation, hospitality and media. With so many people in my constituency losing their jobs at Heathrow and its supply chain, courses will have to re-orientate and colleges will have to provide retraining in other sectors. For people whose jobs will not come back for many years to come, will the training and retraining be available for colleges such as West Thames College, and will they be available to students on universal credit?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I will complement that with a shorter answer. The answer is very much so. Colleges will play a really important role in retraining. Obviously, there will be a different set of skills and certain industries will have retracted, but it is about making sure that young people and people of all ages get the right skills for the economy.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border

I really welcome this forward-thinking skills for jobs statement from the Government. FE colleges play a huge role in levelling up rural communities such as mine. As my right hon. Friend knows, Newton Rigg College in Penrith, the only land-based college in Cumbria, is under strategic review by the FE commissioner as we seek to secure a new organisation to take it over. Will my right hon. Friend ask his Department and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to work with stakeholders to secure the future of this vital college, and ensure that the review process and subsequent negotiations achieve a positive outcome and facilitate a smooth transition to a new provider?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he has done with me and, of course, the Minister for skills and colleges. We have appreciated him highlighting the challenges faced by Newton Rigg. We and the whole Department will continue to work with him and do everything we can to secure a sustainable future for the college by working with local partners.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Labour, Denton and Reddish

As somebody who benefited from in-work technical education in my late teens, I appreciate the value of vocational qualifications, and I welcome much of this statement. However, if I understand the Secretary of State correctly, he has limited eligibility for the new courses to those with no qualifications at level 3. Cannot he see that many people qualified to that level could still need to retrain and may still need support? Will he consider making the system more flexible so that it genuinely meets the needs of working people?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

We will always, whether through the national skills fund or the lifetime skills guarantee, look at every measure that needs to be taken to maximise flexibility in the skills sector. These are important steps in the right direction. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm words, but I take note of the fact that, quite understandably, he calls for us to go a little further, as I am sure all Opposition Members would always ask us to do.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on both his statement and the White Paper, which addresses the challenges of enabling those of all ages to obtain the skills that will enable them to realise their ambitions and to fulfil their potential. As he has indicated, to ensure its success there is a need for colleges such as East Coast College to receive an enhanced, simplified and multi-year funding settlement. I would be most grateful if he could do all he can to ensure that that is provided in the forthcoming March Budget.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the great work that East Coast College does. It is a brilliant example and has such a positive impact in serving its local community. It will be up to a comprehensive spending review to set any multi-year settlements—not the Budget, sadly—but we will be working on the simplification of budgets and the allocation of moneys, which will benefit and help many colleges in managing their finances.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

Thanks to HS2 and the work of the East Midlands Development Corporation, the outlook for the Nottingham economy is very bright indeed. We need to use the time available to ensure that our population will have the skills to access the tens of thousands of jobs that we will add to our local economy. Will the Secretary of State commit himself to our having local control over his plans to ensure that they fit in with the strategies already in place?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

We want to ensure that local communities benefit from the type of major infrastructure investments that we are making right across the country, whether that is HS2 or other infrastructure. When the hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to go through the White Paper, he will clearly see that we want to put local business right at the heart of decision making. It is a model that has worked in countless countries, including Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, and we want to replicate it, because those businesses are the ones that are seeking the skills, and we think they should be a key part of determining what is needed locally.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

I really welcome this skills announcement. It is so crucial for enabling people to realise their potential, for levelling up and for economic success. Will the Secretary of State promise that science and engineering, particularly in the computer and digital field, will be at the heart of his education reforms in this area?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is so important that our colleges are at the forefront of ensuring that we have the skills needed for the new technologies and new emerging markets, which will be so demanding for skills, whether that is in green energy, digital or cyber-security. Colleges can play a pivotal role in providing those skills swiftly and quickly for the market needs.

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

Part of the problem is that too few leaders have personal experience, understanding or, indeed, respect for the work of further education settings. City of Bristol College can, and it is ready to support economic development and pandemic recovery, but it needs secure funding, nationally and locally, now. Will the Secretary of State direct local businesses, and particularly the West of England Combined Authority, to put the college front and centre of their planning, particularly for skills levels 2 and 3?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

We certainly hope that right across the country, and not just in Bristol, everyone sees colleges as a vital lever in delivering economic growth through delivering skills.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough

Level 4 apprentices go on to earn more than the average undergraduate. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 30% of undergraduate degrees lead to negative returns overall. Does my right hon. Friend agree that rebalancing the system towards our neglected technical education sector is the right thing for young people and the right thing for the country?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I absolutely agree. It is a real Achilles heel of this country. In this country, 10% of the 18 to 65 workforce has higher technical qualifications, as compared with 20% in Germany and 34% in Canada.[This section has been corrected on 27 January 2021, column 4MC — read correction] We have to address that skills deficit. This is where there is so much demand for the type of skills that people and businesses want. Of course, the outcomes for people who get those skills and that training are incredibly positive, not least that they usually outperform graduates in earnings.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

The Secretary of State has spoken passionately about the sector, but that is simply not borne out by what has happened over the past 10 years, which has been a story of cuts and lack of investment. What can he do to ensure that funding is guaranteed to continue into the future so that the sector can plan ahead?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. This is something that I do care passionately about. Like so many Members in this House, I recognise that this debate should be about not just the 50% of youngsters who go to university, but the other 50% as well. We all recognise the importance of what our colleges provide. I recognise that there is a big task ahead and that there will be many demands. As I have touched on before, we have already delivered a £1.5 billion capital funding programme and a £2.5 billion national skills fund. We always need to go further with our colleges, but I recognise that substantial challenges remain. I can absolutely reassure the hon. Gentleman of my commitment to delivering for this incredibly important sector, because it really does change lives.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

I know that my right hon. Friend is well aware of the great work that Keighley College, led by Steve Kelly, is doing in my constituency of building up a good working relationship between the education and business sectors. Does he agree that it is crucial that our businesses engage constructively and work together with colleges to ensure that we plug the local skills gaps? Can he set out how the Skills for Jobs White Paper will make that happen?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I am very happy to pay tribute to Keighley College for the work that it does. Obviously, this is a college that was born out of the industry that made Keighley great. We want to see an incredibly close relationship between business and colleges. We want to see local businesses really driving the design of courses. We want to make sure that, by working with those colleges, there is clear understanding that it not only benefits the businesses by providing the highly skilled individuals that they need to prosper into the future, but benefits the colleges by having that business input. I wish to see more and more businesses lending some of their expertise to the colleges, making sure that both are prospering out of this incredibly important relationship that we will put into statute.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank both the Secretary of State for his statement and hon. and right hon. Members for their co-operation in making sure that we got everybody in within the time available. I am sorry that I had to push people, but we have two debates to follow this afternoon for which hon. Members will have been preparing. Thank you.