Rachel Cable, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at ColegauCymru, welcomes the appointment of the new CTER Chief Executive and believes the Commission offers a real opportunity to redesign learning pathways for further education.
Wales will be the first country in the UK to pioneer a single overarching regulatory, oversight and coordinating authority for all tertiary education provision. In April 2024, the Commission becomes operational, and this is a significant milestone.
The establishment of the the Commission for Tertiary Education and and Research (CTER) is a landmark piece of legislation that introduces some of the most significant reforms to the architecture of our education system since devolution.
It is essential that the voice of further education is clearly heard within the Commission. We cannot risk a return to the days of further education being seen as the Cinderella service within post-16 education, and that will require the leadership of the Commission to understand the distinct needs of learners within the sector and the different ways that colleges serve their local communities.
The Commission must properly address the issue of wasteful competition for learners (both between school sixth forms and further education, and between further and higher education in terms of access courses for example), which often still leads to inefficiency, not providing the best opportunities for learners and not obtaining best value for the public purse.
We are delighted that Bridgend College’s Simon Pirotte OBE has been appointed as CTER’s Chief Executive, and with his more than three decades of experience in education, he is the right person to lead the establishment of this new organisation in its early years.
It will be CTER’s responsibility to deliver the vision set out by Professor Ellen Hazelkorn in 2016 of an integrated and coherent post-compulsory educational system with pathways and opportunities for all learners. The Commission must properly address the issue of wasteful competition for learners (both between school sixth forms and further education, and between further and higher education in terms of access courses for example), which often still leads to inefficiency, not providing the best opportunities for learners and not obtaining best value for the public purse. The very ethos of the objectives behind the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act lay the foundations for parity of esteem.
What changes are needed?
As the Welsh Government sets out its priorities for the Commission in its early years, it is vital that we grasp the opportunity to make the big changes that are needed. Learners must genuinely be at the heart of decision making – this means a different kind of dialogue, joint planning, and making sure that institutions put the learner first in their considerations.
The Commission offers us a real opportunity to redesign learning pathways, so that we have a coherent curriculum which enables positive progression for learners – whichever pathway they choose to follow through our system. Supporting these pathways must be underpinned by a fundamental right to high quality and independent information, advice and guidance, particularly at the key transition points. We must also be ambitious in prioritising continuous improvement in learning and teaching excellence, and make sure that our quality regime seeks to recognise the sector’s impact on society. Central to this must be driving further opportunities for people to train and study through the medium of Welsh and bilingually.
We have a fresh opportunity to recognise the unique contribution of further education colleges in knowledge transfer, and supporting employers both large and small, in regional and national economic and societal development. Colleges are critical in developing skills, improving health and wellbeing, and driving social engagement – for learners of all ages.
Collaboration is the way forward
The post-16 sector, CTER, the Welsh Government and other stakeholders must collaborate, collaborate, collaborate – and funding methodology should help to enable and drive a culture of collaboration.
It is time to be bold. For Wales to flourish for current and future generations, we need a post-compulsory education sector which works well and has punch.
The establishment of the Commission must be a moment in time where we recognise that vocational and technical routes are distinctive, and equally as valuable as others. This is our opportunity to inspire learners about the vast possibilities of vocational and technical education. Doing anything less would be to fall short of true parity of esteem.
It is time to be bold. For Wales to flourish for current and future generations, we need a post-compulsory education sector which works well and has punch. We look forward to working as equal partners in the Commission to ensure the unique role of further education is recognised, and that CTER helps us realise our vision for all learners to be able to access world-class further education.
Further education is fundamental to delivering a stronger, greener, and fairer Wales for everyone, and colleges are ready to play their part.