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We commissioned the consultants Pye Tait to investigate employer demand for intermediate technical higher education (HE) – both to understand the nature of provision and to test whether there is latent demand. The study came about because of evidence (particularly from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) showing that the UK has relatively low proportions of this type of provision, yet there is demand in the economy for intermediate-level skills. 

The key findings of the report are:

  • It is difficult to define the market for intermediate technical HE qualifications. They are not necessarily a good proxy for the technician role in the economy, which is diverse.
  • Employers are aware of the different types of intermediate qualifications, but few employers in the survey recruit from this level, and employers do not fully understand their distinctive purpose.
  • Employers generally recruit graduates from Level 6 for technician roles despite not requiring this level for the job, and this practice is increasing. Recruiting graduates from Level 6 is largely due to prestige of degrees and the ready supply of graduates.
  • However, evidence also suggests that employers have some concerns that graduate skills are less suitable for technician-level roles. Apprenticeship routes and work experience are particularly valued for technician roles.
  • Barriers to future demand for intermediate qualifications include:
    • A complex system which means employers lack understanding of the value of such qualifications to their organisation.
    • Limited promotion of such qualifications (with information, advice and guidance being focused on HE aspirations).
    • The lack of prestige associated with intermediate qualifications.
    • The current funding regime.
    • New developments, such as degree apprenticeships, potentially adding to the confusion for employers.

Over recent years, the numbers of students studying sub-degree level qualifications in higher education has declined, including part-time students.  This report forms part of the evidence base for institutions, employers and policy-makers to reflect on the nature of intermediate level higher education that would best meet needs of the economy and society.

Date: 13 September 2016

Ref: Independent research