Osborne pledges further funding for skills and education

Education and training received a boost today from the chancellor George Osborne who announced measures to increase university places and fund higher apprenticeships.

Speaking today in Parliament, Osborne said an extra £40m will be provided to increase the number of people starting higher apprenticeships by 20,000, and that the cap on university places would be removed, allowing an estimated 60,000 more young people to go to university every year. A further £50m will be made avilable to fund the teaching of STEM subjects per academic year.

The funding for apprenticeships is aimed at delivering higher apprenticeships that start in the 2013-14 and 2014-15.

The chancellor’s Autumn Statement states ‘government will develop a model which uses HMRC systems to route apprenticeship funding direct to employers. It added that government will consult on the technical details of the system in early 2014, and on the option of an alternative funding route for the smallest businesses.

Today’s announcement, part of a wider economic forecast delivered annually to Parliament, has received a cautious welcome.

Steve Radley, EEF director of policy said: ‘Businesses have long been calling for a revolution in how apprenticeships are funded, and today their calls have been heard.

‘Placing funding in the hands of the employer will create  a truly responsive, relevant skills system that delivers high quality apprenticeships.

‘Employers now need stability and certainty on apprenticeship funding. Government must build a system that is made to last and resistant to the constant chop and change we have seen in the past.

‘As industry seeks to create more skilled jobs, extra higher apprenticeships and increased funding for STEM subjects at HE will help ensure demand is matched by supply.’

Echoing these sentiments Paul Davies, IET head of policy  added: ‘Reforms of Apprenticeships must include mechanisms to ensure SMEs – the lifeblood of the economy – are not priced out of the market.’

Peter Finegold, head of education at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, cautioned that funding for STEM students and more higher apprenticeships will not adequately address the looming skills crisis in engineering.

‘By 2020, the UK needs to be producing double the number of engineers than it currently does – 127,000 every year – just to stand still,’ he said in a statement. ‘So far, we’re nowhere close to meeting this demand, and we don’t yet know how many of these new higher apprenticeships will focus on STEM professions.’

He added that schools and colleges remain deficient in providing adequate careers information to prospective engineers and urged government to make it more attractive for industry to develop meaningful relationships with education providers.

He said: ‘The engineering profession in the UK employs 2.3 million people and is vital to the UK’s continued economic growth. Government must continue to invest in the future if the UK is to maintain its long-standing reputation as a world-leader in engineering.’

Also included in today’s announcement were further tax breaks for shale developers (from 62 per cent to 30 per cent) and a committment to a formal Science and Innovation Strategy that will be delivered in 2014’s Autumn Statement.

Supply-side reform of the economy – Science and innovation

The government will produce a Science and Innovation Strategy for Autumn Statement 2014. Central to this will be a roadmap of how the government’s long-term commitment on science capital announced at Spending Round 2013 will deliver the research and innovation infrastructure needed to ensure that the UK’s capabilities remain world-leading while playing a key role in economic growth and scientific excellence.

Driverless cars – The government will support the development of driverless cars through reviewing the regulation and legislation that applies to the testing of driverless cars, and creating a prize fund of £10m awarded to a town or city to develop as a testing ground.

Ultra-low emission vehicles – The government will invest £5m during 2014-15 in a large scale electric vehicle readiness programme for public sector fleets. The programme aims to promote the adoption of ultra-low emission vehicles, demonstrating clear leadership by the public sector to encourage future widespread acceptance.

Quantum technologies – The government will provide £270m of funding over five years to build a national network of Quantum Technology Research Centres in the UK. It will introduce an innovation programme to support translation of quantum research into applications and supporting new industries.

Global Collaborative Space Programme – The government will introduce a Global Collaborative Space Programme as an international pillar to the UK’s national space policy. A fund of £80m over five years will enable UK scientists and companies to build stronger links with emerging powers in developing space capabilities and technology

Emerging Powers Research Fund – The government will create an Emerging Powers Research Fund of £75m per year to improve the research and innovation capacity of emerging powers and support research and innovation collaboration with the UK.

Higgs Centre – The government will provide £11m for the creation of the Higgs Centre. This will support high-tech business start ups.

Source: HM Treasury