The College of the Future

Yana Williams and Guy Lacey explain the changes necessary to ensure that Welsh colleges can empower greater lifelong learning and expand access for future generations.

You can register here for the IWA’s upcoming event discussing the effect of changes to the curriculum in Wales.


Covid-19 has brought many existing challenges into sharper focus – access to technology, the need for high quality broadband, and the need to address all forms of poverty. 

Education and skills are naturally part of the solution but on their own, they cannot solve everything.

Against this backdrop, but even prior to Covid, Further Education colleges across the UK have come together to think about what the college of the future should look like, what contribution can and should colleges make beyond skills provision, and how can colleges make an even greater contribution to communities? 

The result of this collaboration includes a series of reports specific to each UK nation from the Independent Commission on the College of the Future.

Common throughout the UK, the Commission’s vision for the college of the future is for colleges to empower people throughout their lives with the skills they need to get on in life, support better productivity and innovation of businesses, and strengthen every community’s sense of place.

“The Future Generations Act and the right to lifelong learning have yet to fully achieve their potential for citizens.

Currently, the restructuring of the college system through previous reforms means that colleges are increasingly able to together support people, increase productivity and strengthen communities. There are exemplary practices in how colleges work with each other, businesses and other institutions across the education system. 

The Commission believes the current policy trajectory of collaboration in Wales must go further to ensure that the education and skills system keeps up what the future of Wales and the world will need. 

The recent report, The College of the Future for Wales, is calling for a radical shift in the role of colleges in the future vision of education and training in Wales so that they can truly deliver on the lifelong learning that is needed, now and for future generations:

  1. Creating a national vision for skills and lifelong learning and making it a reality through a holistic, coherent and equitable post-compulsory education and training system.
  2. Tackling inequalities and delivering for people of all ages by establishing a statutory right to lifelong learning to ensure quality education for all, with cost never a barrier to upskilling and retraining and students able to access and navigate the maintenance support they need.
  3. Ensuring colleges are empowered to collaborate to support their communities to thrive by establishing a legal duty on governing bodies to consider regional needs, and colleges being represented in every Public Service Boards (PSBs) in the delivery of the Future Generations Act.
  4. Strategically supporting businesses with skills and innovation by coordinating sector or occupation-focussed support through employer hubs, with colleges convening strategic support to employers, sole traders and entrepreneurs. 
  5. Driving the digital transformation of the college network and the wider Welsh economy through the creation of digital community hubs in colleges and setting up a fund for digital learning and infrastructure.

Colleges across Wales are in a great position to build on their existing partnerships and strengths. 

Much positive work has been undertaken in the field of adult learning in Coleg Gwent, one of two colleges to pilot the Personal Learning Accounts before their extension across Wales, and also at Coleg Cambria, who were one of three colleges trying out new, even more flexible approaches to adult learning.

Education should not be seen as something that is complete and finished as a life stage when we leave, school, college or university but for too many people, cost is a barrier to returning to education. 

Other resources – including technology and kit, the right space to study, high quality broadband – are all evermore important.”

ColegauCymru is fully supportive of the Commission’s call to fund qualifications up to and including Level 3.  We know that achieving this level of education can make a real difference, not just in terms of employment and future earnings but in terms of health too.  

But the ability to access learning is not just tied to finance for courses.  The mental and physical health of learners and staff needs to become a central consideration of building resilient, happier and healthier learning environments. 

Other resources – including technology and kit, the right space to study, high quality broadband – are all evermore important and ColegauCymru continues to raise and campaign on these issues.  

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And what supports education, skills and training is also positive in other spheres.  Businesses will also benefit from better broadband availability, for example.  More broadly, there are examples of successfully college partnerships with businesses of all sizes that are genuinely collaborative.

We know Further Education colleges can do more, on this and a host of other issues, with the right support and resources.  Social justice has never been more important.  

Wales is the land of good intentions, beset with positive strategies and ideas about how we can build a better and happier nation.

Both the Future Generations Act and the right to lifelong learning have yet to fully achieve their potential for citizens. 

It’s now time to deliver on some of those good intentions, with Further Education colleges being empowered to play the comprehensive role of which they are capable. 

All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

You can register here for the IWA’s upcoming event discussing the effect of changes to the curriculum in Wales.

Guy Lacey is Principal at Coleg Gwent and Chair of ColegauCymru
Yana Williams is CEO at Coleg Cambria.

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