CBI calls for extra year of education

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The Confederation of British Industry wants young adults in England to be entitled to an extra year of education.

Director general Carolyn Fairbairn says this move could benefit further education colleges, but any cut to university tuition fees to compensate would cause them "profound harm".

A review, led by financier Philip Augar, on how to fund post-18 education is due to be published this spring.

The review is considering whether to cut tuition fees in England.

The intervention by the CBI comes amid growing pressure to achieve a better balance of funding between the almost half of 18-year-olds in England who go to university and those who do not.

Ms Fairbairn is expected to say in a speech on Thursday that this should not be done by "robbing Peter to pay Paul".

In a speech at Cambridge Regional College, she will argue that further education colleges have "politically been neglected", leading to historic underfunding.

As part of the solution, she suggests young adults should have an extra year of education entitlement beyond the age of 18.

This might be to take a course at a college or a foundation year at a university, leading to a qualification above A-level, but below a degree.

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There has been speculation that the independent panel reviewing post-18 education could recommend a reduction in the headline tuition fee for at least some university courses in England.

Ms Fairbairn said: "A cut in tuition fees would be a gross abrogation of responsibility because more young people from poorer families are now going to university.

"If politicians fan the flames of fear about the cost of university, they could end up deterring the very people who benefit most."

The Association of Colleges said the CBI intervention was welcome, because much of the focus has been on the 60% of 18-year-olds who get A-levels and go on to university.

AoC chief executive David Hughes said: "For the other 40% we invest far too little capital, financial or political, leaving them in low-skilled jobs, insecure employment and shutting them off from opportunities."

Businesses have been warning that the greatest skills shortage is in higher technical qualifications, just short of a degree.

Paul Johnson, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, says some of the great gains in reducing inequality and increasing economic productivity lie in concentrating on how to educate young people not studying for a degree.

"The answer is not to push more of them through university," he said.

"We need to stop obsessing just about the lucky half of them going to university and focus on the others who need much more invested in them."

In December, Education Secretary Damian Hinds said the government recognised the need for more new technical qualifications at a level just below a degree.

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