Universities must ’embrace technology’ to improve ‘access and flexibility’, says skills minister

Gillian Keegan, the UK’s minister for apprenticeships and skills, took to the virtual stage at Jisc’s Digifest event to discuss edtech’s role in delivering on the government’s Skills for Jobs white paper

Jisc’s four-day (8–11 March) virtual Digifest event kicked off today via an interactive online portal. This year’s schedule explores teaching and learning, and libraries as factors that underpin today’s reinvented university student experience.

Following the official welcome ceremony, UK apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan MP took to the digital main stage, delivering a session titled, Timing is everything: the opportunity for edtech in the year ahead.

In a timely discussion offered ahead of Sir Michael Barber’s digital teaching and learning review, Ms Keegan delved into the various roles the government expects edtech to play in delivering the government’s Skills for Jobs white paper, which sets out reforms for post-16 technical education and training to give young people the skills required to secure ‘good’ jobs and improve national productivity.

On top of this, the minister explored how edtech can support skills reform and revolutionise higher education.

When asked what key messages she’d like to deliver to the sector, Keegan urged universities to “embrace technology” as much as they can to improve the “access and flexibility” of their educational offer; while, with regards to the white paper, the minister stressed that “we need to make sure that we embrace the employer-led standards”.

Keegan stated that the nation has been on a low technological skills road “for too long”, citing this as the reason for the UK’s low productivity and shortage in technical skills. She said that, even pre-pandemic, 34% of graduates were working in non-graduate jobs, stating that these are issues we must be “open to address”.

“I’m always struck by the fact that…young people are making what’s effectively a £40–50,000 investment decision in their education with not as much data as I’d like” – Gillian Keegan, apprenticeships and skills minister

The employer-led standards, set out by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and discussed in the government white paper, have been established as a national system and apprenticeship model to ensure employers have a central role in designing and developing qualifications and training. This will enable employers to specify exactly what’s required from an apprentice in each specific role.

These standards provide a blueprint for the skills, knowledge and behaviours (KSBs) needed to successfully complete a particular job, and all apprentices will be required to take an independent assessment at the end of their training to demonstrate they possess the KSBs to the required professional standard.

The majority of apprenticeship standards do not include mandatory qualifications, enabling employers and training providers to tailor teaching and learning in any way they wish. However, by continuing to provide qualifications, employers and training providers can enforce quality delivery that is hoped to ensure positive and transferable outcomes for participants.

When it comes to achieving these standards, Keegan expressed she would be “working very hard to make sure the employers do their bit”.

“It seems to me that in terms of our system,” said the minister, “we need to make sure that after all the years of education that we invest in, whether a young person goes to university or whether they go down a different route…having a situation where people cannot fill the skills gaps is something that we all need to take seriously.”

Keegan emphasised the need to ensure that young people have access to the options and opportunities needed to make “sensible choices” about their future.

“I’m always struck by the fact that…young people are making what’s effectively a £40–50,000 investment decision in their education with not as much data as I’d like,” she told Digifest’s virtual delegates. “So, I’d really like to turbo-boost 21st century careers advice as much as possible, because I just think it’s about people understanding all the options and making choices that work for them.”


In other news: Make sessions more interactive, provide on-demand content and other findings from Jisc’s digital experience survey


 

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