Employer sponsored study

New report calls for Government to invest in Universities of Technology to ‘level up’

10 May 2021

Aston University and London South Bank University (LSBU) have today released a new report, ‘Truly Modern Technical Education’ (PDF File 985 KB), which calls on the Government to:

  • Make the lifelong learning account wholly cashable to allow for partial payments and for the balance to be ‘saved’ by learners for later use.
  • Extend the Apprenticeship Levy so employers can use it to sponsor employees through higher technical Level 4 and 5 qualifications.
  • Invest in pilot programmes to develop a more collaborative approach between HE and FE.
  • Increase funding so over 19 year olds who don’t have a Level 2 qualification are supported to do so.
  • Strengthen the link between skills and R&D.
  • Increase investment for applied research in Universities of Technology where it is linked to commercial growth that will outweigh the public investment.
  • Encourage Universities to create business schools over the next 5-10 years to support their local innovation ecosystem.
  • Ensure Universities of Technology play a leading role in the development of local economic or industrial strategies.

UK Universities of Technology focus on the creation and application of technical knowledge to enhance productivity in the economy. They produce research that is quickly applicable to real life and deliver teaching and research working closely with industry and the professions. 39% of students enrolled in UK universities on a technical subject in 2019.

Universities of Technology train the next generation of highly skilled workers, including scientists, nurses and engineers and work closely with employers. Examples include: Aston University which plays a leading role in supporting local SMEs through its Centre for Growth and LSBU which trains two-thirds of all building service engineers for the UK construction industry.

But UK Universities of Technology currently face major challenges:

  • Funding structures which do not adequately support specialist technical courses have fuelled a homogenisation of higher education.
  • National policymakers’ focus on three-year residential non-technical degrees rather than other higher technical courses which are delivered part-time or to mature students.
  • Underinvestment in applied research (research that turns innovation and knowledge into enterprise) which limits collaboration with SMEs (which make up 99% of all UK companies) to develop new products and services and drive local economic growth.

Professor David Phoenix, Vice-Chancellor of LSBU, said: “To raise productivity and deliver its ambition to ‘level up’, the Government must actively support the UK’s Universities of Technology by funding the applied research that will help build their reputation and cut through the outdated snobbery about technical education.

“Today, the UK’s Universities of Technology are training the next generation of skilled workers, including scientists, engineers, public servants, medics and nurses. If the Government wants to expand opportunity across the country, they must ensure that all learners that have clear pathways into higher technical qualifications and that Universities of Technology are adequately funded to deliver them.”

Professor Alec Cameron, Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, said: “In this report we present our solution to the UK’s productivity problem. We contend that the UK must join up the two “missing middles” of our economy; Levels 4 and 5 in technical education, and applied research. Both have been underfunded and overlooked in the past and it is time to remedy this if we want every region to thrive.

“Universities of Technology already exist in the UK; they are working with their local industries to develop a pipeline of skilled workers and their research is directly applied by its business and public sector beneficiaries. We call on Government to reform the way funding works for higher technical skills and applied research to really unleash the potential of Universities of Technology.”