Open University in Wales

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1 Open University in Wales - Response to Balancing the responsibilities for skills investment: proposals for co-investment in post-19 adult skills delivery. About The Open University in Wales 1. The Open University (OU) was established in 1969, with its first students enrolling in It is a world-leader leader in providing innovative and flexible distance learning opportunities at higher education (HE) level. It is open to people, places, methods and ideas. It promotes educational opportunity and social justice by providing highquality university education to all who wish to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential. 2. Over 8,000 students across Wales are currently studying with The Open University, enrolled on over 11,000 modules. There are OU students in every National Assembly for Wales constituency and we are the nation s leading provider of part-time higher education. Almost three out of four Open University students are in employment while they study and with an open admissions policy, no qualifications are necessary to study at degree level. Over a third of our undergraduate students in Wales join us without standard university entry level qualifications. 3. In 2013, for the ninth successive year, The Open University was top in Wales for overall student satisfaction in the National Student Survey. As a world leader in educational technology, our vast open content portfolio includes free study units on the free online learning platform OpenLearn 1 (including many Wales-related materials) and substantial content on YouTube and on itunes U where we have recorded over 66 million downloads. 4. The OU works with employers across Wales in developing their existing workforce to meet current and future higher level skills requirements. The OU development pathways in social work and health care enable many hundreds of non-traditional learners to achieve university qualifications as well as meeting employer / service needs. In the private sector OU programmes support Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) workforce development particularly amongst females as well as delivering generic business and management up-skilling. The OU works with all Health Boards, most local authorities and hundreds of private sector employers including Anchor Companies such as EADS/Airbus, TATA Steel, Admiral Insurance and General Dynamics UK. The OU s unique partnership with the Wales TUC and affiliated unions has engaged with the network of Union Learning Representatives across Wales in support of higher skills development. Its innovative partnership working has been nationally recognised for widening access in the workplace. 5. The co-investment approach has parallels with current OU practice where employers pay tuition fees to support development of their staff, but at a level around 25% of costs met by employers and/or individual via fees and 75% via Welsh Government funding. This level of co-investment appears to be a sustainable approach. The suggested level of 50% paid by employers would appear ar to be demanding in what continue to be difficult economic times. It is worth noting that EU convergence has significantly depleted the willingness of private sector employers to co-invest in skills 1

2 development, with free programmes offered by a range of providers including HE, FE and WG funded work based learning programmes. 6. The Open University in Wales is keen to ensure that this strategy takes account of the skills needs of all sectors of the population and enables the up-skilling of older workers as well as those just starting their careers. It is also important to ensure that the strategy enables part-time workers, particularly those in low-paid employment, to benefit from co-investment and the skills development agenda. Response to consultation questions Below we have set out our response to the questions asked in the consultation. We have confined our response to the questions relevant to our work with students and employers in Wales. Question 1 What are your views on the proposed skills performance measures, including the Level 3 attainment benchmark? 7. The Open University in Wales believes that the proposed skills performance measures are broadly appropriate and fit for purpose. We welcome the Level 3 attainment benchmark but we also hope learners will be encouraged to move beyond level 3 and that employers will be encouraged to look for opportunities to develop their staff beyond level 3. Benchmarking is an important and useful tool but it is also important to continue to encourage progression and highlight progression pathways to learners rather than the benchmark being seen as the end point in a learning journey. We also believe that the needs of those who are unable to, or do not wish to, achieve level 3 should be taken into account and that the need to meet targets for attainment levels should not be allowed to create a system whereby unsuitable opportunities are offered to people who cannot benefit from them. Question 2 How do you consider co-investment being used as a mechanism for improving the value of vocational education and training in the delivery of higher-level skills? 8. We welcome the principle of co-investment and believe that it has the potential to impact positively on employees and employers in Wales. There is an important role for vocational education and training in the delivery of higher level skills and the intention for this to be taken forward as a partnership between government and employers is to be welcomed. It is important to ensure that the cost of part-time flexible learning remains affordable to ensure that this provision is accessible for those supported via co-investment and those wishing to fund themselves. With this in mind funding arrangements that enable institutions to keep their fees for part-time courses low need to be protected. In the current economic climate it seems that a 25:75 employer:government funding ratio may be more effective than a 50:50 ratio. Question 3 How could co-investment be used to support employers in better utilising the skills of their employees? Are there examples of best practice from which Wales can learn? 9. In July 2009, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) committed around 2.9 million in funding to 12 action research projects aimed at exploring the role that universities and colleges might potentially play in improving skills utilisation in the workplace. An interim evaluation of this project was undertaken by Cardiff University and may be of interest. It can be found at

3 rs/rp101.pdf 10. This case study (http://www.enhancementthemes.ac.uk/pages/docdetail/docs/casestudies/learning-from-two-skills-utilisation-projects-he-skills-and-graduateness)taken from the Graduates for the 21st Century Enhancement Theme concerns the Open University s engagement in two skills utilisation projects funded by the Scottish Funding Council. One project is concerned with providing progression routes to BEng and beyond for engineering workers who have typically entered the industry through an apprenticeship route. The other is to help care workers achieve a leadership and management module which is becoming mandatory for staff in care homes who take up a supervisory grade. The projects are different in as much as one focuses on progress towards a qualification while the other is quite closely tied through regulation to a single episode of HE study. Both groups, however, tend to have a considerable level of technical skill in their work context and also work in environments where team working and communication are critical. Question 4 What are your views on the establishment of a pricing structure to maintain levels of quality, value and price in the delivery of qualifications and learning? 11. As per our response to question 2 (paragraph 8) we believe that it is essential that fees for part-time flexible courses remain affordable. It is also important that any pricing structure is transparent and consistent enabling comparisons and choices to be made. The introduction of loans for part-time students this year may also have a role to play here. Question 5 What are the risks or issues that could potentially undermine the implementation of a co-investment policy in Wales and how could these be addressed? 12. One of the risks is the potential lack of engagement from employers due to lack of capacity to engage or the cost. It will be important to ensure that employers are encouraged to see how developing their workforce can have a positive impact on their business / organisation and that costs do not prohibit employers in businesses of all sizes from engaging. Early engagement with employers, through this consultation and other methods, to design the system will be essential. Likewise consultation with learners, employees and learning providers will be helpful in mitigating risks of introducing any new system. Wales has a high proportion of public sector employers so it is important to ensure that in the current economic climate all sectors are able to make the most of the skills development agenda and that coinvestment is an affordable option across public and private sectors and for SMEs as well as large businesses. Question 6 What additional incentives could be used to support employers to increase their investment in the skills system, including potential levy arrangements? 13. Levies could possibly be used as a last resort in sectors where there is a failure to invest and grow the workforce or where there is a skills shortage that is not being addressed. Question 7 Under what circumstances would you consider it important for coinvestment to be waived or limited?

4 14. Co-investment could be waived where there is an emerging market need and / or a shortage of skills at a higher level in a particular sector. The absence of large employers in a sector area can sometimes mean that there is no one to take the lead on skills development therefore in sectors which microbusiness-led then there may be a need to waive co-investment. 15. We note that the document states the intention not to provide co-investment for informal or non-accredited learning. Whilst we would not argue that all learning of this nature should receive co-investment we believe that there are some circumstances in which informal and non-accredited learning can have a useful impact on employees and employers. This could include introductory courses or the informal learning available via the OU s OpenLearn platform some of which is skills based or vocational (e.g. Renewable Energy, Skills for Rural Enterprise, Information Security) and may be beneficial to those looking to up-skill. These learning routes can help people who would otherwise be unlikely to do so to up-skill and access HE and it may be worth considering whether there could be some circumstances in which these could be subject to co-investment in areas of need or where individual employees may benefit from additional support to take the first step to higher level learning. Much online learning is free of charge, including the whole of the OpenLearn platform, but co-investment could be used to support learners to access these courses or to incentivise employers to encourage learning Question 8 In your view, which qualifications or learning should not be supported by any form of government investment and why? 16. The Open University mission states that learning opportunities should be available to anyone and as a result they should be as flexible and varied as possible. This means a wide range of courses delivered through flexible methods. With this in mind we would advocate for all qualifications and learning to be supported wherever possible. Question 9 How could a co-investment policy be used to support the development of Welsh language skills in the workplace? 17. The Open University in Wales Social Work students, sponsored via co-investment approaches with local authority and third sector employers, benefit from a fully bilingual degree pathway. We would like to see co-investment used to enable this type of provision in more areas of work and to enable the development of Welsh Language skills in the workplace. Question 10 Beyond Essential Skills to Level 2, what other skills areas do you see as fundamental to provide the foundation for improving skills levels in Wales? How could co-investment be used to support these skills areas? 18. We have no comment to make in response to this question. Question 11 How might a refocused Employer Pledge be structured to support employers to invest in the skills of their workforce? 19. We have no comment to make in response to this question. Question 12 In the context of co-investment, what considerations should be given to support vulnerable groups who are in employment to address their skills needs?

5 20. Our experience suggest that those furthest from education and those with disabilities or caring responsibilities are likely to need more targeted support when accessing education and training and in order to be able to complete their courses. Some examples of the type of support required are set out in our recent report Extending Opportunities for Carers 2 which used our experience of working with carers to identify the additional support they may need to access and stay within education and training. This report should provide a useful outline of the support requirements for carers and other groups. 21. Learners with additional needs should be identified as broadly as possible and supported by their employers to up-skill and develop. This may require the principle of co-investment to be waived in some areas. This may also require additional provision such as access courses or online learning being made available to learners as outlined in paragraph 15. Question 13 We have asked a number of specific questions. If you have any related issues which we have not specifically addressed, please use this space to report them: 22. We would like to see more joining-up of the current work around Higher Level Apprenticeships and traditional Higher Education Programmes. In many cases providers of each of these are looking towards the same market and we would like to see more joined up working to ensure that there is no duplication of effort or provision. 23. The skills development agenda is crucial to ensuring the development of a strong Welsh economy. The Open University in Wales believes that it is essential to ensure that as many people as possible are able to benefit from co-investment (employers and employees) and that the focus of this work must not be solely young adults. In order to respond to the changing demographics of Wales we will need to ensure that we can up-skill our older workforce and allow people to re-train or come back into the workforce by providing flexible work-based learning opportunities for those in full and part time work. May 2014 Contact: Michelle Matheron Tel: Extending Opportunities for Carers Open University in Wales available at

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