Lawrence has written about the UK’s falling productivity rate, its poor performance relative to our European neighbours and the importance of policymakers addressing the issue. He argues the UK’s skills shortage are driven in part by the misinformed bias many young people and their parents have for graduate degrees over apprenticeships. To address the problem, he has called on the Government to fund a dramatic expansion in the range of higher-level apprenticeship courses on offer and for the launch of a major marketing initiative to educate and inform teachers, young people, and their parents of the opportunities available through modern apprenticeships. Lastly, he cites the need for greater public awareness of the poor earnings and employment potential of many university institutions and the courses they offer.
The adult education system is failing to meet the demands placed upon it. Devolution of the adult education budget (AEB) to the combined authorities offers the opportunity to remedy existing floors and make the system more responsive to local needs. Lawrence argues, however, that this opportunity is being missed. A bias in favour of FE colleges over private training providers persists, despite evidence from the Skills Funding Agency’s own research showing employers are more satisfied with private training providers. The effective ring-fencing of funding for FE colleges, for example, represents a missed opportunity to free up the education budget, foster competition and drive up standards for the betterment of learners, employers and the economy. He believes it also undermines efforts to address the issues of financial mismanagement prevalent among some colleges.
Financial Mismanagement and the Further Education college sector
The majority of Further Education colleges in the UK offer quality teaching and are in good financial health. A small proportion of the sector, though, is plagued by financial mismanagement. Poor financial performance and substandard teaching provision are often co-symptomatic. Lawrence advocates enhanced financial transparency to address financial mismanagement among poor-performing colleges. Encouraging college leaders to show greater financial discipline will increase the likelihood of financial wrongdoing being spotted sooner and will deliver a culture change within the sector for the betterment of both the taxpayer and learners.
Skills Funding Reform
Lawrence welcomed the Government’s recent announcement regarding further investment in skills and further education. However, he has called for this extra funding to be met with reform of the skills funding system. He believes the adult education budget (AEB) funding allocation system is antiquated, overly complex and prevents money getting to where it is needed. As well as stifling competition between colleges and independent providers, the system’s heavy emphasis in colleges’ favour creates a bottleneck in funding and prevents money failing to get to where it is needed. Only by simplifying the funding system, introducing effective competition and bolstering the provider liaison resources of the ESFA can the Government drive up standards within the sector to the betterment of both providers and learners.