The government should re-establish a “reputable” national careers information, advice and guidance programme, a think tank has urged.
In a report Filling in the biggest skills gap: Increasing learning at Levels 4 and 5, the Higher Education Policy Institute said this should form part of a package of measures to plug the “acknowledged shortfall of people educated to Levels 4 and 5 in England”
Levels 4 and 5 can be achieved through stand-alone qualifications and are equivalent to the first two years of a bachelor’s degree, and they often – but not exclusively – cover technical subjects.
The report said skill shortages at these levels were due to a shortfall of learners progressing from lower levels, with more than 57% of young people not reaching Level 4 or above.
But Level 4 qualifications could not become more widespread “without making them better understood and more visible…the education funding systems [also] provide disincentives for learners to take and providers to offer standalone Levels 4 and 5 education”.
The report, by Professor Dave Phoenix, vice-chancellor of London South Bank University, recommended provision of free access to learning through schools and further education colleges for all learners – regardless of age – at Levels 2 and 3. Level 2 is equivalent to a GSCE between grades 9 to 4 / A*, A, B, C, while level 3 qualifications include A-level and AS-levels
Level 4 and 5 qualifications should also be clearly designated as higher education, within the higher education regulatory framework, Phoenix said, and offered as educational targets in their own right, rather than as ‘exit routes’ for those who cannot progress to a degree.
A reputable national careers information, advice and guidance programme should be made available to help people decide whether a Level 4 or 5 course would help them in their chosen field.
The report also recommended revised funding rules to encourage higher education institutions to offer Level 4 and 5 qualifications, and flexibility in student loans “to allow learners to step-on and step-off this educational continuum”.