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Institute of Continuing Education (ICE)

Student coding on computer

With their new white paper recently published, ICE’s Director of Continuing Education, Dr Jim Gazzard, shares his perspective on the Government’s proposals for the future of lifelong learning. 

In January, the UK Government’s Department for Education published Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth. These long-awaited insights aim to support the Prime Minister’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.   

The paper, much of which now looks likely to be enacted into law, describes how adults, irrespective of their previous educational achievements or life stage, will be supported to acquire essential work skills.   

Expanding options for adult learners

Amongst the initiatives are plans to improve the quality of mid-life careers guidance, focus taught provision on local skills needs and renew higher technical qualifications such as HNCs and HNDs, including extending the provision of apprenticeships.  

Mirroring the global trend, there’s likely to be increased emphasis on bite-sized modular learning and credit transfer, allowing adults to gradually accrue credit towards certification from study undertaken at different institutions.  

The paper also details a new Lifelong Loan Entitlement, potentially commencing in 2025, to provide greater access to funding for ongoing education and training. 

At ICE, we look forward to seeing how the proposed policies and approaches develop, and we’ll play an active role in the consultation.   

In 2018, ICE led for the University of Cambridge on developing the provision of levy-funded apprenticeships, subsequently launching postgraduate apprenticeships in Police Management and Architecture in 2019 and 2020 respectively. We’ll also begin a new apprenticeship for postdoctoral researchers later in 2021. While the bureaucracy behind the levy is overly complex, it is undeniably providing access routes to more professions for people from a widening range of backgrounds.   

Opportunities for ICE

Looking ahead with the white paper in mind, if Cambridge, as a city and locality, is to remain a science ‘superpower’, it is essential that access to technical training is enhanced and, in turn, complements Cambridge’s excellence in undergraduate and postgraduate education.  

Cambridge has the unwelcome distinction of being the most unequal city in the UK – the city’s income is more unevenly distributed than any other, including Oxford and London. Consequently, we intend to actively explore whether ICE could provide level 4 and level 5 higher technical-vocational qualifications (while maintaining our broad offer across arts and sciences and postgraduate professional fields), offering open-access courses in emerging fields for people currently excluded from the knowledge economy, with a clear ambition to promote social mobility.   

Reminders of our history

While not without omissions and potential flaws, the white paper offers a fascinating glimpse of a possible future. It also reminds us of our past: Cambridge’s extension movement became a leading national provider of technical education well over a hundred years ago. In Sheffield, for example, our predecessors established Firth College in 1879 and subsequently spun out the Sheffield Technical School in 1884. These institutions and the Sheffield Medical School were later amalgamated, forming the University of Sheffield in 1905.   

Time will tell whether the Government’s white paper generates a renewed focus on technical education as part as a wider initiative to promote economic renewal and social justice.


This article was originally published in our Long-Vacation - Michaelmas 2021 issue of Inside ICE.

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