How Can National and Local Skills Policies Encourage Collaboration Between Universities, Colleges and Employers To Drive Productivity, Innovation and Growth?

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In our latest podcast, Chris Millward, Professor of Practice in Education Policy at the School of Education, University of Birmingham talks to Peter Creticos, President and Executive Director, at the Institute for Work and the Economy in Chicago and Ewart Keep, Professor of Education, Training and Skills at the University of Oxford, about skills policy and practice in the UK, the US and around the world. They discuss how universities, colleges and employers can work together to improve skills, how national and local governments can encourage this, and how it might improve productivity, innovation and growth.

This podcast was inspired by the University and Regions Policy Forum. The forum aims to bring together researchers with policymakers and practitioners to understand levelling pp and respond to the challenges it presents.

The podcast covered the following topics:

The pattern of relationships between universities, colleges and employers in the US

In the United States, and in Chicago, Illinois, there is a long history of collaboration between universities, employers and unions on public policy issues that pertain to skills development, skills recognition, and education, which is focused on meeting the needs of employers in the area.

It is publicly funded institutions that focus on real-life experiences and jobs and have robust working relationships with employers, whilst private institutions tend to focus more on students and research.

Universities and Community Colleges working together

In the US there are Community Colleges, sometimes called Junior Colleges, which provide two-year associate degrees. These colleges are engaged directly with employers within their service areas in meeting specific demands with respect to training, as well as providing direct services to employers on a contract basis in terms of education needs.

Community Colleges have articulation agreements with universities that allow students’ work to be recognised at universities.

The interaction between national, state and local government for skills funding in the US

Federal funding can be used to directly assist students through student loan systems. It is also used to fund workforce development where the funding goes down to the state to local workforce boards, which are public-private partnerships and will be typically used for training, rather than education. It might also be targeted at specific groups that might not necessarily normally have access to this training without support.

States may also develop their own funding programmes, for example, to support the transition to Net Zero.

Collaboration in the UK skills system

The picture of collaboration observed in the US appears more consistent with Scotland and Wales than England. In Scotland, there are articulation agreements between colleges and universities. There is also a programme in Scotland to try and match the needs of local economies with that education provision.

In England, the general picture is one of a policy vacuum at the national level. Funding is controlled centrally and is unlikely to meet local needs. At the local level, only some parts of the country have any money to spend on skills.

How to stimulate change regionally and nationally in the UK

Devolution is key to addressing this. The English system is heavily centralised. There is a need to align our skills system with local needs and priorities and allow local actors to have a greater say in where funding goes. The new mayoral combined authorities are doing this by developing skill strategies linked to local economic needs, workforce planning and trying to get people far away from the labour market re-engaged. At the national level, we need skills policy to be joined up, whereas in England we have separate streams of activity controlled by different departments. We need to incentivise colleges and universities to work together much like they are doing in Wales and Scotland.

But not all areas of work are served by a local approach

An exception to this is the growing economy of gig work. Gig workers, although physically working locally, may be competing in transnational markets. A local approach won’t be effective in supporting their needs, so different forms of information and support are needed.

The importance of national and local work cultures and systems

Whilst it’s important to try and learn from other skills systems around the world, we need also to remember that those skills systems evolved and exist in a set of cultures and work systems that might not be replicated in your own country. In the case of England, for example, it would probably make more sense to collaborate and learn from other countries in the UK that have a shared history, substantial movement of students and staff, and overall governance.

Listen to the podcast

Visit the City-REDI / WMREDI podcast

Read a transcript of the podcast

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.

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