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New beginnings?

Posted: 17th September 2013

Kath Galloway DPhil
Higher education consultant to CIC

When I first worked with higher education for CITB in early 2007, it might as well have been on another planet. Industry was zipping along. Loads happening supported by public money. ‘Employer co - funding’, Higher Level Skills Pathfinders, Lifelong Learning Networks, Subject Centres doing valuable work across the UK and more. Then came the recession.

Less employer engagement with higher education, but no criticism. Other things to think about, like staying in business. The publicly funded programmes and structures diminished. Some reached the end of their planned lives, others were stopped or much reduced by policy change. Talking of which, when the dust settled after announcements in October 2010, it became clear tuition fees would rise significantly in most of the UK as part of a radical funding shift. Central grant to higher education institution reduced, student pays increased fee direct to higher education institution of their choice. Funding much more literally ‘follows the student’. Many eyes were on autumn 2012, the first undergraduate intake in the new regime.

So, what happened? A few months ago, I took a fairly extensive look. Not the prettiest picture. The discipline group which features construction management and quantity surveying ‘lost’ almost 1,800 new undergraduates accepted compared with 2009, civil engineering 400 and architecture – which previously seemed to advance unstoppably – 50 worse than civil engineering. How’s it looking now? In general, indications of slightly better undergraduate recruitment to the industry’s disciplines than in 2012, but well below levels seen 4 or so years ago.

Some say that if the industry hasn’t got the graduate opportunities, less should study its disciplines. I’d say lack of graduates hasn’t been felt yet. Those who started 3 year degrees in 2009 were looking for jobs in 2012. They were comparatively numerous, and opportunities relatively scarce because of industry conditions. Though as I scouted what was going on earlier this year, some employers said their prospects were improving. Let’s not get overexcited, not that many and certain types. But perhaps there’s light on the horizon.

Industry picks up, more opportunities -> better image as provider of graduate jobs -> more undergraduates in industry disciplines. Problem solved?

Not necessarily. Selected from many possible considerations, try this. In some occupations, there was a noticeable tendency towards employers ‘growing their own’. Recruiting at 18 then using higher education to develop, same with level 3 apprenticeship completers who showed promise, taking an undergraduate on placement, sponsoring their degree’s final year then offering a job on graduation and so on. What are some employers known to have used these routes saying now? ‘We will probably recruit more graduates’. I thought ‘Great!’ for a spilt second, before realising this may be because a single employee’s part time undergraduate fee can be £4k+ p.a. Far more than it was, and money’s still tight. Again employers can’t be blamed. Though if they ‘grow’ less graduates, aren’t more who pay for their own study needed? Add that when industry improvement accelerates even more graduates are wanted, and there’s fewer of them because of what’s happened in recruitment since 2009.

When most were still scratching their heads about the implications of announcements about higher education funding made about 8 weeks before, in January 2011 an employer told me;

‘Give it a few years, and we’ll be back to fighting each other over placement students’.

A wise man, I think.

Government bodies now appear interested. This could be thanks to what’s happened to construction and built environment undergraduate numbers, disappearing part time provision and similar combining with factors like construction being an ‘Industrial Strategy Sector’. Still good, though.

The industry’s higher education seems even keener on assembling under the banner of CIC – in cooperation with CITB – than it was on previous arrangements which ended in spring 2012. Higher education wasn’t averse to the former set up, but the somewhat different Education for Built Environment (E4BE) launched 13 September, all main disciplines on board. On 5 November you’ll have an opportunity to find out more. Click here to find out how

Almost forgot. Why the question mark after the title of this blog? Because I’m not completely certain as yet, but ‘new beginnings’ might be what we have.

Contributor: Dr. Kath Galloway is in her seventh year as an independent consultant. In addition to her involvement with construction and built environment higher education, she has had many other commissions including in Romania, in the UK with British Council and recently worked on a new apprenticeship which forms a key part of the Department of Health’s Modernising Scientific Careers initiative. You can find out more about her via LinkedIn