Friday 1 March 2019 10:59 am

DEBATE: Should 18-year-olds be entitled to an extra year of free education after school, as the CBI suggests?

Should 18-year-olds be entitled to an extra year of free education after school, as the CBI suggests?

Matthew Fell, chief UK policy director at the CBI, says YES.

As the world of work changes, people need to learn throughout their careers. The best companies help their people evolve through education.

Colleges serve firms brilliantly, with tailored courses that deliver new skills. But historically they have been underestimated, underfunded and neglected, denied the recognition they deserve.

Now, they can play a new role. The government should give school-leavers an entitlement to an extra qualification between an A-Level and a university degree – a technical course based at a college, or an apprenticeship, that would enable people from different backgrounds to come together and learn skills they might not otherwise.

Get it right, and our colleges might find their roles better recognised. In addition, universities could offer the same kind of flexibility, enabling people to return to study for less than three years.

Post-Brexit – where education is a rare homegrown source of strength – we must back our colleges and give individuals who do not attend university a chance to continue their education.

Len Shackleton, editorial research fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says NO.

The CBI is rarely shy of spending taxpayers’ money, but it is premature to boost spending on further education. We don’t know what the government’s review of higher education funding will bring, and there has been no proper assessment of the apprenticeship levy – the latest of many failed training initiatives.

There is an immediate funding problem in further education colleges, and the government has provided some interim support. But the main cause of this is a failure to recruit over-19s, and the CBI proposal is not well-targeted.

Most school-leavers in further education are either redoing examinations which they should have completed successfully in schools, or taking low-level courses offering a basic introduction to work discipline but with trivial technical content. Giving kids an extra “free” year in education offers little incentive for selectivity and ambition in their career choices, or for colleges to smarten up their offer. It’s a sticking plaster for the status quo, but little else.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.