£10m scheme to help Open University plug skills gap

The initiative will see FE institutions paired with the Open University in a bid to help upskill people in educational ‘cold spots’

Remote learning is set to become further baked into post-16 education provision, with news that the Open University (OU) is set to partner with colleges across the country in bid to fills skills gaps in higher education “cold spots”.

Backed by £10 million of government funding, the OU will work with “around 10-12” FE providers in England over three years, either introducing courses in those not currently offering higher technical education, or expanding the breadth of courses already on offer in others.

“For too long, people have had to look beyond their hometown for higher education courses,” said universities minister, Michelle Donelan, as she announced the initiative earlier this week.

Now, she added, “everyone can upskill wherever they live. This marks a new era for higher education, supporting more people to gain the skills needed to get good jobs, with higher wages that will help to grow the economy and tackle the cost of living.”

The OU partnership will be introduced ahead of the government’s lifelong loan entitlement, slated to arrive in 2025, and offering adults flexible student finance for different courses throughout their lives.

Read more: Open University survey suggests HTQs solution to digital skills gaps

Courses in the new scheme will be shorter than the traditional three-year degree, and use a blend of in-person and online learning. Partnerships between the OU and the course providers will either be collaborative delivery or validation models.

The Department for Education said the OU particularly welcomes interest from colleges in education investment areas or places with relatively few adults with higher-level qualifications. Successful FE bidders will be announced in the autumn.

“This investment and partnership between the OU and colleges will bring the reputation and experience of a world-renowned institution into communities across the country and reflects an important new focus on ensuring people can access the education and training they need throughout their lives,” said David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges.

“The OU has strong name recognition nationally, and colleges have the reach and the local reputation to engage adults from every community. Working with the OU they will be able to offer a wider range of courses to the people that need them most.

“Together, these partnerships will help more people get the skills they need to succeed in the labour market.”

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