May to launch £170m boost for technical education

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Theresa May is looking to shake up technical education with a £170 million investment in new "prestigious" institutes of technology as part of her "crucial" industrial strategy for post-Brexit Britain.

The Prime Minister said the move was about ensuring that the half of all young people who do not go to university get the same opportunities and respect as graduates.

She will launch the strategy at her first regional Cabinet meeting, in the north-west of England, on Monday. It is aimed at improving living standards, productivity and the spread of economic growth around the UK.

At its heart will be an overhaul of technical education, including £170 million of capital funding to set up institutes of technology to deliver education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

Thousands of technical qualifications, many of which the Government sees as low quality, will be replaced with 15 core technical "routes" designed to meet the needs of industry and teach skills in demand from local employers.

A new Ucas-style system of searching and applying for technical courses may be introduced to give interested young people clearer information and better support, creating a "genuine parity of aspiration" with university students.

And the Government will test moves to encourage lifelong learning, particularly in areas where industries are changing or in decline, including a review of whether to introduce maintenance loans for higher technical education.

Mrs May said: "Our modern industrial strategy is a critical part of our plan for post-Brexit Britain.

"As we leave the EU it will help us grasp the bigger prize: the chance to build that stronger, fairer Britain that stands tall in the world and is set up to succeed in the long-term. And it is a vital step towards building a country where prosperity is shared and there is genuine opportunity for all.

"Our action will help ensure young people develop the skills they need to do the high-paid, high-skilled jobs of the future.

"That means boosting technical education and ensuring we extend the same opportunity and respect we give university graduates to those people who pursue technical routes."

The strategy will include plans to use the free school model to set up specialist maths schools, building on the high performing Exeter and Kings College London Mathematics Schools.

Action will also be taken to tackle shortages in STEM skills.

A review by Professor Sir Adrian Smith will set out proposals to incentivise growth in the number of graduates in STEM subjects and address regional imbalances in the number of students progressing to higher-level qualifications.

Commenting on the plans which will be outlined in a Green Paper, Business Secretary Greg Clark said: "The UK has some of the best universities in the world and our schools are improving, yet for too long technical education for school leavers has been neglected - with large differences in skill levels between regions.

"We must improve skills and opportunities so we can close the gap between the best people, places and businesses and the rest.

"It is about making our country one of the most competitive places in the world to start and grow a business. We are inviting people throughout the UK to contribute to this work to create a high-skilled economy that works for everyone."

Commons Education Committee chair Neil Carmichael welcomed the announcement and said it could help Britain "go a long way" towards filling its 82,000-strong annual engineering skills gap.

The Tory MP also welcomed the move towards a Ucas-style system for technical education.

"This is excellent news in my mind," he told the Press Association.

"STEM subjects are exactly what we should be focusing on and high quality prestigious technical colleges, absolutely right."

He added: "It is a big, big step in the right direction."