Skills Minister Nick Boles has announced that technology education will undergo drastic changes, as thousands of courses become condensed into just 15 prospective avenues for students to follow.

The standards of the courses will be set by employers, giving them control over the direction of students’ progress.

The rehash comes as a large number of technology students leaving school and university are left with no obvious jobs to pursue due to the ‘dizzying amount’ (20,000 or so) specialised courses that they must choose from, leading to uncertain futures for highly qualified graduates in an extremely lucrative field, a panel chaired by Lord Sainsbury proclaims.

The ‘Post-16 Skills Plan‘ published by Boles outlines how the reform will affect technical studies. In it, Boles cites the Wolf Report, praising its success in giving young people valuable knowledge and experience of the working world through apprenticeships. Boles claims that his new technical education system will ‘direct’ students into highly paid positions and ‘harness’ their talent, creating ‘the most skilled workforce in the world’.

Boles claims that:

“This [the Post-16 Skills Plan] cannot be the government’s job alone; we must work with employers and post-16 providers to unlock the potential in this country.”

The type of innovation that is necessary to start a company, according to an article in The Economist, relies on ‘upper-tail knowledge’ (abstract knowledge of the 1%) rather than ‘average human capital’ (generic skills). In the article, a paper written by Mara Squicciarini of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and Nico Voigtländer of the University of California explores how abstract subjects, such as those which are offered at the moment in technological studies in schools and universities by over 160 different organisations, were what drove Britain forward in the Industrial Revolution. They argue that:

“While worker skills, such as literacy and primary education, boost productivity by utilising existing technologies, it is the skills held by top engineers and entrepreneurs that enables a society to innovate and foster the type of rapid technological progress that characterised the industrial revolution.”

Worries that limiting the number of courses available to students will limit business innovation have surfaced from experts in education such as Laura McInerny, who writes that the ‘BIG CHOICE’ that the government says it offers students with the new post-16 reform is actually a separation of vocational and academic subjects.

In her article for Schools Week she voices concerns over the ‘mixed vocational/academic route’, adding that the ‘transitional year’ for apprenticeships is poorly thought out and that it doesn’t consider special needs students. She does however mention that the reform could be ‘potentially revolutionary’, surmising that to ‘pull the patchwork of qualifications into one quilt’ is quite ‘smart’.

Ofqual (The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) has been quick to advocate the programme. Sally Collier, Chief regulator made a statement welcoming the reform. A government news story reveals their intentions:

“We agree with Lord Sainsbury’s independent panel that the proliferation of vocational qualifications can be confusing to employers and learners. Given these concerns, we will as a first step shortly remove around 2,000 qualifications from our register that have not been awarded for at least two years. We will write to awarding organisations to explain how we intend to achieve this significant reduction.”

“Awarding organisations affected by our changes will hear from us by the end of July.”