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Higher Technical Education - the current landscape

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 13:35
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The higher technical qualification landscape at levels 4 and 5 is undergoing a government review with a view to strengthening the qualification offer at the levels, focusing on how technical qualifications at this level can better address the needs of learners and employers. The Higher Nationals team have been engaging with the Department for Education (DfE) as part of their review to contribute evidence of how the BTEC Higher Nationals are high-quality higher technical education. 

Our contributions to the consultation are worth sharing, as they demonstrate just how strongly the BTEC Higher Nationals (HNs) meet the government’s requirements for higher quality level 4 and 5 technical education, which can help meet the economy’s needs for more level 4 and 5 technical skills.

Despite our current record employment levels, the UK is suffering from considerable underemployment. This is in part due to an oversupply of university graduates undertaking jobs that are below their qualification level. Many more learners could be better suited to undertaking studies at the 4 and 5 level but may be dissuaded due to limited awareness and information.  

What are the features of the HN suite that make them such a perfect fit for the needs of this high-potential landscape and its students? Two essential components are flexibility and employer-relevance. The HNs embody these features in the way they are designed, developed and delivered. 

Employability at the core

The HNs have a reputation with employers as a relevant and high-quality training option. This reputation has been gained via the use of the HN as a long-standing technical training route - particularly in sectors like Construction and Engineering. A recent report commissioned by HEFCE found that: ‘Overall, employers have a reasonable awareness of the different types of intermediate qualifications, being most familiar with HNCs and HNDs (79%), followed by foundation degrees (67%).’ 

With the latest redevelopment of the suite in 2016, this employer-relevance has been strengthened even further, not least via robust engagement with key employer and professional body stakeholders, to define qualification purpose and content, and define specialist pathways for particular occupational areas. In addition, professional recognition is built into the HNs, either by their recognition by professional bodies, or by providing exemptions to professional qualifications. To keep the qualifications in line with advances in industry, we review and update them on a yearly basis.

In support of apprenticeship training, relevant Higher Apprenticeship (HA) standards are also considered in the development process and incorporated into the qualification content to support use of HNs in on-programme delivery of HAs. Our new HNs in Healthcare Practice for England are a really great example of this - they have been built to support the on-programme requirement of the Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeship standard. 

A qualification that suits learner's needs

The HNs provide access for a broad range of learners, including older age groups, therefore supporting social mobility. The ability to offer HNs in a part-time model is supportive of those learning in work or with other learning requirements. The 2017 State of the Nation Report on social mobility gives the example of Coventry University’s Scarborough campus using the HNs as part of a flexible HNC/HND/degree learning model to support inclusion of groups who would otherwise find it harder to access higher education. 

Another feature of the HNs’ flexibility is the ability to certificate at HNC at level 4 and HND at level 5, therefore gaining industry-recognised qualifications at defined points in their studies. This ladder of learning approach provides progression flexibility for those in work or with other commitments. 

The HNs are also designed in such a way that they do not limit progression to further study beyond level 5. In order to support student progression beyond level 5, the appropriate level of demand is incorporated (level 4 HNC, and level 5 HND) when writing content and assessment criteria - this is achieved by use of level descriptors for the HN suite which have been built with reference to the Quality Assurance Agency’s (QAA) Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ) qualification descriptors. HN programmes are also mapped to the relevant QAA Subject Benchmarks to further support progression to level 6 study. 

Due to the clear fit between the HN approach and the requirements set out so far in the DfE consultation, we are looking forward to further cementing the place of the BTEC Higher Nationals in the high-quality technical education landscape at levels 4 and 5. The final report resulting from the consultation should be available before the end of the year.


Rebecca Mameli

Hi! I'm the Head of Higher Education Research and Qualifications in the Higher Education Qualifications team at Pearson.

My role is to manage the Higher Nationals qualification development team and process. We ensure that the HNs are designed in the most exciting and robust way possible, meeting the needs of students. I work across a range of subject areas from Business to Art and Design, making sure that HNs are designed to the highest quality principles and standards. 

When I’m not at work I like to try and learn Italian, and I’m a big fan of eating out,and music in all its forms.


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