While less revolutionary than we’d hoped for, with ambition clearly tempered by short-term fiscal settlements, the FE and skills white paper paints a progressive picture of the future for our sector, putting skills at the heart of our nation’s recovery.
In the frame are welcome improvements in infrastructure to enable better links with local economies, and an emphasis on cultivating the digital skills of learners and teachers alike.
What’s lacking, however, is fine funding detail to give these broad brushstrokes tangible form. We will continue to push for that - to ensure that FE providers can keep pace with the digital evolution that the pandemic has finally kickstarted1.
Reflecting some of the aims of Jisc's FE and skills strategy and the final report from the Independent Commission on the College of the Future, the white paper fuels conversation for change. The policies, funding and plans that ensue must better meet the demands of all learners and employers, and to positively impact personal and economic wellbeing.
Links with employers
Connecting FE providers to their communities and the regional economy is highlighted in the white paper as a priority. Jisc is well-placed to strengthen this ambition through its world-class digital infrastructure, the Janet Network, and secure, seamless connectivity.
That includes providing reliable and ubiquitous wifi – still sadly lacking for an alarming number of FE campuses. Only 68% of FE learners responding to our annual survey said they had access to reliable on-campus wifi and even less - 63% - agreed that their organisation gave them access to online systems and services from anywhere.
FE providers that have begun their technological transformation, particularly those with multiple campuses, are finding that extra digital capacity is only possible with reliable connections to Janet. With increased demand for cloud storage and online communications, bandwidth upgrades must keep pace.
Jisc protects colleges’ connections to Janet, but providers still need to put in place robust measures to defend their own systems and networks against cyber attacks, or risk potentially catestrophic consequences2.
If an extra incentive were needed, employers are more likely to work with providers if they can demonstrate digital maturity, have sufficient bandwidth and are serious about cyber protection3.
Our 2020 digital experience insights survey of FE staff finds that more needs to be done to build up skills and confidence using technology in teaching - a necessity if education is to prepare learners for the digital workplace and lifelong learning, as the white paper indicates.
The Jisc and Association of Colleges research project report, shaping the digital future of FE and skills, published in September 2020, has a plan to meet that aim: it recommends that Jisc, the Education Training Foundation and the College Development Network (Scotland) develop a digital pedagogy CPD programme for staff.
In the meantime, there’s some excellent peer-to-peer upskilling going on within the edtech demonstrator programme, which I’m pleased to see that the government is extending beyond its original March deadline.
At last, Ofqual looks to be starting the conversation on digitising the out-of-date assessment system4 for high-stakes exams - and we have advice to share5 on that, too. The sector must prepare for this by working hand-in-hand with employers to develop standardised digital content to support learning on all courses.
While the white paper makes a similar point and says the government will ‘support’ that aim, what’s lacking is a commitment to fund a centralised FE and skills digital content search and discovery platform, as the shaping the digital future of FE and skills report suggests. A handful of colleges, Plumpton6 and USP7, for example, are leading the way here, but centralised support is required if the whole sector is to benefit.
Providing a framework for the future, the white paper’s aims can only be realised if all FE principals and CEOs show digital leadership and understand the fundamental culture change they must manage as part of that. As the pandemic brought home, technological evolution is no longer an option – and Jisc will continue to support members to reach that destination and beyond.
As the UK’s digital body for lifelong learning, we will play a pivotal role in connecting FE providers to their communities, each other and employers, focused on developing a sustainable sector, serving technically skilled and digitally confident citizens.
Find out about Jisc’s strategy for supporting FE and skills members.
Read our report, shaping the digital future of FE and skills.
- 1 Read my previous blog post: 'Online learning is here to stay - so we must work out how to do it well - https://www.jisc.ac.uk/blog/online-learning-will-continue-so-we-must-do-...
- 2 Jisc feature on Dundee and Angus College 2020 ransomware attack: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/ransomware-attack-how-one-college-pulled-tog...
- 3 Read Jisc blog post from Milton Keynes College's head of information services, Jonathan Wilson, 'Implementing a security standard needs a mandate from the top' - http://www.jisc.ac.uk/blog/implementing-a-security-standard-needs-a-mand...
- 4 UK Government briefing paper: Online and on-screen assessment in high stakes sessional qualifications - https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploa...
- 5 Jisc report: the future of assessment: five principles, five targets for 2025 - https://www.jisc.ac.uk/reports/the-future-of-assessment
- 6 Jisc feature on Plumpton College 'Getting students ready for the changing workplace' - https://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/getting-students-ready-for-the-changing-work...
- 7 Feature: USP College ‘Virtually connected classroom network would save time, money and solve the teacher shortage’ - https://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/virtually-connected-classroom-network-would-...