Huckfield would like to emphasise that this is not an ‘opinion posting’ but is offered as a comprehensive record of the Black Country Partnership for Learning Spring Conference on Friday 25 May 2012. It is based on notes taken throughout the Conference and on speakers’ presentations.

KEITH BATE, PRINCIPAL OF HALESOWEN COLLEGE

Introduction

In his Conference Introduction, Keith Bate, Principal of Halesowen College, welcomed colleagues to a further important Black Country Partnership for Learning Conference. He spoke of the previous Government target of 50% participation in Higher Education, which seemed to have disappeared. Nevertheless, he was sure that current Government’s Higher Education policy changes represented significant opportunities for Further Education Colleges.

PATRICK HIGHTON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF BCPL

Welcome

Patrick Highton, Executive Director of BCPL, welcomed colleagues to another high quality, low cost BCPL conference. He referred to the previous joint BCPL Further/Higher Education Conference in November 2011, with the outgoing Vice Chancellor of Wolverhampton University’s predicting reduced enrolment following higher student fees. In fact, Wolverhampton’s projected 2012 enrolment had increased by 5%. He hoped that this note of optimism would continue throughout the day.

Since this is offered as a comprehensive and detailed posting, the following links take you directly to the speakers concerned and their presentations.

GORDON MACKENZIE, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, HIGHER EDUCATION POLICY AT DEPARTMENT OF BUSINESS, INNOVATION AND SKILLS

Gordon spoke about student demand, progress so far in implementing the White Paper’s reforms and information for students and the institutional supply side.

NICK DAVY, HIGHER EDUCATION POLICY MANAGER, ASSOCIATION OF COLLEGES

Nick explained his historical perspective for education. This was a time for rethinking policy. We should be asking what kind of HE system we needed and get back to promoting applied and practical knowledge and skills.

JOHN DAVIES, HEAD OF PROGRAMME DEVELOPMENT, PEARSON

John explained Pearson’s plans for employer based degrees, some with employers paying fees. Pearson would soon launch degrees in Business and Enterprise and Engineering.

JOHN ELLISON, HEAD OF HIGHER EDUCATION, NEW COLLEGE DURHAM

John explained the process which was followed by New College Durham to gain Foundation Degree Awarding Powers. Despite the time taken, he thought that the process had strengthened the College.

PETER CRISP, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF BPP LAW SCHOOL AND ADAM TEMPLE, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF BPP CENTRE, BIRMINGHAM

Peter and Adam gave examples of current private sector provision and explained the operational features of BPP, which were similar to those in the public sector. BPP already had Degree Awarding Powers.

PROFESSOR DAVID GREEN, VICE CHANCELLOR AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE, UNIVERSITY OF WORCESTER

David gave examples of the University of Worcester’s participation in the local economy, including a new Library which would serve both the University and the wider public.

PROFESSOR IAN OAKES, UNIVERSITY OF WOLVERHAMPTON AND BLACK COUNTRY LOCAL ENTERPRISE PARTNERSHIP

Ian outlined skills shortage problems in the Black Country. The new Jaguar LandRover Plant would create 750 jobs. The Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership had identified key outcomes and objectives.

LUKE MILLARD, BIRMINGHAM CITY UNIVERSITY, PAUL CHAPMAN, BCU STUDENTS’ UNION AND KIM HUGHES, DUDLEY COLLEGE STUDENTS’ UNION

Luke and colleagues explained how they had set up a “virtual Students’ Union” to provide an access point for students on various campuses. This also provided a means for FE and HE institutions to communicate with students.

PHILLIP HALLAM, CEO, RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT INTERNATIONAL

Philip explained how RDI, with its significant resources for marketing and investment, was able to work in partnership with universities to deliver online and distance learning.

MAIN NOTES ON CONFERENCE SPEAKERS’ PRESENTATIONS BEGIN HERE:

Links have already been provided above to speakers whose presentations now follow.

GORDON MACKENZIE, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, HIGHER EDUCATION POLICY AT DEPARTMENT OF BUSINESS, INNOVATION AND SKILLS

Gordon made a presentation on “The Changing Policy Framework: the HE White Paper and Beyond”.

Student Demand and Progress on White Paper

He said he would speak on what was known about student demand, what progress had been made in implementing the White Paper’s reforms and information for students and the institutional supply side. The actual impact of fees and other changes would depend on numbers applying, how institutions responded with their fees and the actions of Government. HEFCE now managed overall expenditure and it was hard to predict changes in the system which would unfold over several years.

On the demand side, after last year’s White Paper, there was a need to overcome financial and information barriers. All this was set against a background of the toughest funding review with £3bn to be saved by 2014-2015. A financial package was needed which would not deter lower income students.

High Demand

There was still high demand. In 2009-2010 demand exceeded supply by 50,000. Despite many more students, the wage premium for degrees remained stable. This suggested an increased demand for graduate skills. OECD had reported that the long term growth rate was influenced by higher skills.

Gordon referred to profound aspirational and attitudinal change taking place in society. David Willetts as Higher Education Minister frequently quoted the Millennium Survey of mothers, with 97% expecting their child going to university.

Despite White Paper changes, strong demand for Higher Education continued. March and April 2012 data showed HE applications holding up, with the overall proportion of English school leavers as applicants the second highest on record.

Though application rates from 18 year olds were only down 0.7%, we should not expect continuing increasing numbers with the size of the 18 cohort reducing. Disadvantaged applicants were only down 2% from January 2011, but there was a decline in older people’s applications – 11% for over 24s. Demand outstripped supply and we might still expect around 170,000 failing to secure a place. By September 2012 the Key Information Set on 14,000 undergraduate courses would be publicly available to applicants.

It had already been announced that the student grant package for 2013-2014 would be maintained. While he accepted that the 50% target had not been reached, the Robbins target – that University places should be available to all who qualified for them by attainment and ability – still remained.

Competition

The White Paper introduced competitive pressure through new providers. They were called ‘alternative providers’ since there were no ‘public universities’.  Though there were recent useful studies of the private sector, including from the Higher Education Policy Institute, there was still no comprehensive picture of private HE provision.

There were also information gaps for HE delivery in FE, including lack of knowledge on FE delivery costs and how FE courses were more geographically accessible than HE institutions.  AABs and ABBs had been freed up. In recent bidding, half of Core and Margin bid places were going to FE Colleges. But though under Core and Margin, FE Colleges received 10,354 places and HE received 9,643, this was still tiny compared with overall numbers.

Degree Awarding Powers were in the White Paper, responding to criticisms that those with these powers could guard against access to market.

Further Work

There was still the need for Government to respond to the White Paper and its Regulatory Framework Consultations. These responses would show the Government’s intentions on the Higher Education Bill. The Government needed to finish what had been started. It was not until 2014-2015 that the Student Loan System would reach maturity, covering all students on three year degree courses.

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NICK DAVY, HIGHER EDUCATION POLICY MANAGER, ASSOCIATION OF COLLEGES

Nick’s presentation was “A Perspective from the Association of Colleges”.

He said that while Gordon’s presentation was an excellent introduction, he also believed that institutions themselves could shape the system. It was not entirely done by BIS and people like Gordon. He wanted to ask a basic question on whether systems derived from medieval enlightenment were still appropriate for mass higher education.

Higher Education was not a market place since volume and to some extent entrance were controlled. Major institutions knew they would not be allowed to fall.

From Elite in Society to Mass Education

Nick explained his historical perspective for education. Plato had been an early wider participation advocate but was still an elitist – a ‘Philosopher King’. The educated were an elite in society.

Humboldt in early nineteenth century Prussia linked scholars and students. But none of this was about skills development. Teaching should be based on a search for truth. He commented that German universities had resisted the EU Bologna process to spread the complementarity of HE qualifications because they simply wanted to teach.

We had moved from elitism to mass education.  Robbins in 1963 wrote about cheaper mass higher education. Today we had reached about 36% participation in HE. There had been a success story around widening participation for those from lower socio economic backgrounds, but he wondered whether we were still putting the tools in place for society to grow. There were still problems with widening participation. The HEFCE site showed differences in backgrounds between newer and established universities. The Russell Group Club showed this problem. Though 7% went to private schools, 50% of them went to Russell Universities. This was a problem from allowing institutions to have too much autonomy. There were also problems with teaching and learning. Less than 9% attending Durham University come from Tyne and Wear.

Rethinking the System

He asked how many civil servants beginning to question costs of 3 year Bachelors’ Degrees.  It was time to rethink what kind of system we wanted and its purpose. It should be about developing higher level skills. Our Higher Education system should not aim to compete with workers in China but should serve a whole diversity of aims. This was an opportunity to rethink aims and processes.

The system needed continuing permeability. There were big gaps between Secondary, Further and Higher Education, each with different teaching systems. We needed to examine the transition from Secondary to Further and Higher. The big break between Secondary and Higher education was an elitist concept.

HEFCE in its “Opportunities and Challenges” publication was a request from the dying days of New Labour. But the new government still wanted it published. But HEFCE was a timid organisation. We should be asking what kind of HE system we needed and get back to promoting applied and practical knowledge and skills. There was not parity of esteem.

HEFCE’s and SFA’s not working together was a structural problem. He was beginning policy work with the Skills Funding Agency, National Apprenticeship Service and HEFCE, which did not talk to each other.

Should we be charging such high fees? More funding should be available for transition and widening participation. There should be more Credit and Transfer Frameworks. We needed many more APL schemes. Non Prescribed Higher Education should be promoted and funded.

He was not opposed to loans. Neither was Association of Colleges. But they were introduced too quickly. Prestigious universities should be pressed harder on widening participation. We needed a more diverse Higher Education system, probably supported by loans and with more achieved by colleges and universities working together.

PANEL QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

In reply to a question about fees for part time courses, Gordon and Nick agreed that there was not yet much employer awareness about payment of fees for part time courses.

In answer to a question about FE Colleges and Core and Margin bidding, Nick said he was comfortable with a projected smaller increase of 5,000 places in 2013-2014 since some FE colleges would struggle hitting targets for Core and Margin. 5,000 was sensible. With more experience of hitting targets there should be larger increases from 2014.

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JOHN DAVIES, HEAD OF PROGRAMME DEVELOPMENT, PEARSON

John’s presentation was entitled “Validation and Accreditation Services for Higher Level Provision”.

Pearson Provision

He felt that Higher Education was at an interesting junction.  He felt strongly that much education debate following the Second War represented coming to terms with a mass education system. The promise in the White Paper was that the private sector would come in and reinvigorate the system. It sometimes seemed like warring factions with the private sector at the door.

But private providers were already there. Kaplan was already working with Liverpool and Essex to provide degrees. But there was little of a market in the system. Pearson as a FTSE 100 private provider sought to respond to changes in the landscape. 80% of Pearson publications were for HE. Pearson owned Edexcel. After Higher Nationals, Foundation Degrees had not really expanded numbers in ‘pre degree’ education.

There was ever higher demand from employers and a 25% churn rate among graduate recruits. Pearson would work with employers to provide a more flexible and responsive system.

Surveys showed that universities were not preparing students for the world of work. Universities were scratching at the surface with a growing sense of ‘instrumentalism’ – students’ going on a course to get a job. Pearson’s route would provide progression to jobs. Loans could be repaid as part of employment. An example was graduates leaving Deloitte with their fees paid.

Employer Base for Pearson Degrees

Pearson sought to develop degrees as employer-based, jointly with Royal Holloway College at the University of London. A Business and Enterprise degree would be launched in September 2012. Engineering would be launched in September 2013. Pearson was moving into unknown territory when moving off quota, since funding was uncertain. Pearson would deliver with partner colleges – a sort of enhanced Open University, with campuses in Manchester and London. Pearson needed experience of delivering degrees to gain its own DAP. Pearson could then franchise out provision. The old London External Examination Model, with sitting standard exams, would not work for Pearson. Successful courses involved hands on, face to face tutors in loco parentis. Courses with multiple delivery were not successful. Debt free graduates would be a matter for employers. Pearson would charge £6,500, pricing below traditional courses, and had already spoken with banks. Pearson wanted debt free students but could not compete with the Student Loan Company — which would cause the Government big problems.

For its Engineering Degree Pearson needed workshops, labs and a high level of management. This would build on current HNCs in Construction and Engineering. Mott MacDonald and Rolls Royce were interested. Pearson was interested in designing an engineering degree with case studies. (John’s detailed presentation gives more examples of this at Level 6). All this was a new and emerging market and not in competition with existing provision.

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JOHN ELLISON, HEAD OF HIGHER EDUCATION, NEW COLLEGE DURHAM

John’s presentation was entitled “Foundation Degree Awarding Powers for FE Colleges”

Background

John explained that New College Durham had around 2000 (1200 FTE) directly funded Higher Education students. It had one of 12 Schools of Podiatry in the UK and also offered a Social Work degree. There was a mixed national picture for degrees. Some parts of the county faced a big challenge getting young people to enter HE, with some only 23% – including East Durham, with wards like Easington and Seaham, the poorest wards. New College was ‘promiscuous’. It worked with a range of universities for validation – a restless organisation looking for universities with which it was comfortable. A university was a many-faceted institution, which sometimes gave you four different answers to a question.

Bill Rammell had promoted Foundation Degree Awarding Powers (FDAP) when Minister of State for Higher Education. These powers were available from 2008. Following its IQER pilot, New College Durham felt duty bound to pursue this in August 2008. The process showed similar issues for FDAP and TDAP.

He accepted that so far takeup was low. New College Durham and Newcastle College were granted FDAP in July 2011. Four more colleges were currently going through the process, including Blackburn and Grimsby. All this was a process within a dynamic and fluid environment. Though New College felt politically obliged to go through with this, FDAP gave public affirmation and confidence of status as a public education provider. The next step would be TDAP, though Newcastle was probably keener on this. DAP also provided a level of independence, though the College was still working with universities in Level 6 and other provision.

FDAP Process

The upfront cost was £52,000 from QAA and an annual subscription to QAA around £4,000 to £6,000, depending on numbers. It was difficult to work out the cost of whole process. With staff costs for external scrutiny, additional costs for external examiner fees, additional registry functions and all posts, this might even be between £125,000 and £250,000. Costs were probably more than would be expected. Newcastle College now had an Academic Registrar.

Benefits included no more paying validating charges to HE Institutions and more control over the College product. Experience showed that students were more interested in the student experience than in who was the awarding body. Though there was an opportunity to increase student numbers, the whole process was more was about strengthening experience rather than increasing volume. FDAP applicants need four years’ delivery of Level 5 or above and an endorsement from an existing validating body. This was QAA professionalism at its best. The College was looking for capacity and self criticality. FDAP had had now been granted for 6 years. But the College could not franchise.

College management structures needed to change. Though not a research institution, the College needed to show scholarly activity and that there was profit from this scholarly activity. The process had dominated the life of the College.

In answering the question “Was it worth it?”, he felt that the College was now much stronger as organisation. As an example, a recent approach from a Third Sector organisation had enabled a Foundation Degree to be assembled within a prescribed timetable – which would not have previously been possible.  New College’s own degrees will be delivered in September.

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PETER CRISP, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF BPP LAW SCHOOL AND ADAM TEMPLE, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF BPP CENTRE, BIRMINGHAM

Peter and Adam’s presentation was entitled “The Private HE Provider”

Private Sector Provision

Peter explained his position as Dean of BPP’s Law School, which had eight centres. He wondered whether we should still be talking in this way about the private sector when it was growing faster than the public.  Private sector growth would overtake public by 2025.

Adam explained that the private sector was an established HE provider. Kaplan, with Degree Awarding Powers, was working with Liverpool John Moores and University of Essex. Laureate was working with University of Liverpool. The London School of Business and Finance was working with London Metropolitan University.  Private sector work ranged from accreditation and validating with the University of Wales to INTO and the Cambridge Education Group, providing pathways to Higher Education. There was also a University Partnerships programme, where BPP managed real estate and halls of residence.

The University of Buckingham was a private provider established by Royal Charter. New private providers with TDAP after 2004 included the IFS School of Finance and Ashridge Business School. Private For Profit providers included BPP University College and the College of Law – recently acquired by Montagu, a private equity group.

Pearson with Edexcel now planned to offer degrees. US companies now planning a UK entry strategy included Bridgepoint, De Vry and Capella, with a stake in RDI, which was itself seeking UK TDAP.  Private Equity also sought entry, including Warburg Pincus and Englefield Capital.

BPP was formed in 1976 by three members of the accountancy faculty and was floated in 1986 as BPP Holdings PLC. In 2007 it became the first proprietary company to receive UK Degree Awarding Powers. In 2010 BPP became the first private University College for 30 years. 140,000 students studied annually with BPP.  BPP Law School now delivered 25,000 students for to be employed by law firms. There was also BPP School of Health and BPP Business School. Adam also described the BPP Education Group’s companies in other countries.

Degree Awarding Powers

For those asking about DAP, Peter said that DAP represented building on success. Although QAA had first suggested that BPP programmes might be validated by existing universities, there were reputational risks in linking with the wrong third party. BPP wanted independence. The QAA process took 18 months.

Peter explained that DAP meant many new programmes, including Certificates, Diplomas and Undergraduate Degrees in business, law accounting and marketing.  BPP could also work with employers for tailored programmes. DAP offered innovation and control over BPP does. BPP Fees were the same as top up fees elsewhere in Higher Education.

DAP also meant challenges, including contributing to research like a publicly maintained university. BPP research and scholarship outputs were not pier reviewed.  But it was competing with a public sector which could not lose its powers, though it might have misbehaved, mismanaged its finances and under invested in teachers. QAA was re visiting BPP this Autumn, but the public sector held its degree powers in perpetuity.

BPP as Higher Education Provider

BPP had adopted a structure which was like public HE. Votes on its Academic Council were weighted in favour of independents. Other usual functions were like those of a University.

Adam explained that BPP faculties were the same as the public sector, with 95% of staff employed. There were 16 UK Centres, which saw students joining BPP as the first stage of their career. BPP Centres tried to reflect the workplace and offered a variety of different mechanisms. Students wanted more contact time so there were 12 to 18 class sizes. There were 3 standard start dates – January, May and September. The typical week was up to 16 hours maximum teaching for two semesters.

Adam explained that BPP provision was designed around the workplace. More traditional delivery represented education for the 5%. CPD Research in 2006 showed that “33% of students wish they had chosen a different course, such as a more scientific/technical course or a business-based course or a professional vocation”. BPP was trying to meet this demand for career led degrees.

Peter said that the CBI/UUK ‘Future Fit’ Survey 2009 showed that most important Key Skills were those for employability.  Employers wanted students with business and employment oriented skills and qualifications.

The 50% participation target mentioned was not as important as gaining higher level skills.

Adam explained that though BPP had a national focus, there was also a need to be near where students lived – residential proximity.  BPP fees were the same as the top up in the public sector. Fees for a three year degree were £5,000. There was no HEFCE funding at all in this. Maximum class sizes were up to 18. The CBI “Stronger Together” Report in 2009 welcomed more private participation in HE.  BPP was here to stay.

PANEL QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

In reply to a question, Peter confirmed that BPP was already working with New College Swindon to deliver a BPP course using the College facilities. The BPP course was delivered by BPP staff. There was also general agreement that the QAA DAP process was taking too long.

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CONFERENCE LUNCH BREAK

PROFESSOR DAVID GREEN, VICE CHANCELLOR AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE, UNIVERSITY OF WORCESTER

In a wide ranging presentation entitled “Real Inclusion in Practice”, David explained that Worcester would soon have 10,000 students.  It used to have a few hundred. We should think in terms of Life Changes, starting off with pre natal and Early Years Education. The University wanted to reach out to develop partnerships. People mistook educational change for innovation. Partnership and intensity were important. The University should participate in the local economy, so that working with the Third Sector, Health and Care were important, as was involvement in music, sport and enlightenment.  This might sound like a Victorian environment but it represented a whole institution approach. Worcester’s new University and Public Library would be opened by HM The Queen. Getting children used to going to Library at University was important in enabling their access to Higher Education.

It was important to grow HE. There was an ongoing national argument between those who wanted to cut their way to prosperity and those who produce their way. Instead the real distinction should be between Profit and Not for Profit. There was a poor history of For Profit Education over time.

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PROFESSOR IAN OAKES, UNIVERSITY OF WOLVERHAMPTON AND BLACK COUNTRY LOCAL ENTERPRISE PARTNERSHIP

Ian’s presentation focused on the “Skills Challenge to the Black Country”.

Black Country Output Gap

He explained that the Black Country productivity challenge was a £5.9bn output gap for jobs, skills and business. Insufficient skills levels represented £1.4bn of this. His series of tables showed Black Country GCSE and NVQ attainment below the English average. Black Country working age qualifications were actually going down. Only attainment in Level 1 was above the national average.

The Black Country LEP had identified Key Transformational Sectors, including Advance Manufacturing, Building Technologies, Transport Technologies including Aerospace, Business Services and Environmental Technologies. Major developments included the Enterprise Zone, the Jaguar LandRover Engine Plant and Aerospace Sector. The Enterprise Zone would generate almost 4,000 new jobs by 2015 with relaxed planning regulations.  A £355mn investment in the JLR plant meant 750 jobs and a further 2,500 supply chain jobs. There had already been 20,000 applications for JLR jobs. But applicants needed not just qualifications but to be job ready.

Key Outcomes and Objectives

The Black Country LEP had identified key outcomes and smart objectives, with an 18% increase in employment – 8,900 jobs. Delivery of work experience, soft skills and the complex information landscape were LEP Key Themes. Education should be alongside workplace experience. Skills curricula should be revised in collaboration with Sector Skills Councils to match employer needs. There should be bite sized CPD opportunities for those in work and clearer accessible signposting for employers. Mapping the client journey against current provision could identify duplication and market failure.

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LUKE MILLARD, BIRMINGHAM CITY UNIVERSITY, PAUL CHAPMAN, BCU STUDENTS’ UNION AND KIM HUGHES, DUDLEY COLLEGE STUDENTS’ UNION

Patrick Highton explained that when he had been Director of the Birmingham, Black Country and Solihull Lifelong Learning Network, the LLN had successfully sponsored a Birmingham City University “Partnership working across Students’ Unions in FE Colleges – Birmingham and the Black Country” Project.

Virtual Student Union

Luke Millard explained that following the LLN initiative, this had been rolled out into the Black Country for development in partnership with the University of Wolverhampton and Black Country Colleges. This had become a “virtual Student Union” for students needing access and representation.

Paul Greatrix, Registrar at Nottingham University had emphasised in a recent Times Higher Education article that Student Unions were more important and relevant to universities and colleges than ever before. Meaningful student engagement was central to university and college life.

This “virtual Student Union” concept provided a student point of access not just for National Union of Student matters but for a wider range of university and college issues. It also provided an important communication tool for institutions with their students.

PHILLIP HALLAM, CEO, RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT INTERNATIONAL

Philip’s presentation was entitled “Flexible, Open and Distance Learning Approaches to HE Partnerships”.

About RDI

Philip explained that RDI was an international Higher Education organisation based in Coventry, founded 22 years ago, working in partnership with 8 UK universities to develop, market, deliver and support a wide range of online distance learning MBAs, Masters and Undergraduate Degrees to students in 150 countries. RDI also had a centre in Hong Kong and was currently under the scrutiny of QAA for TDAP.

Partnership Working

He continued that typically partnership working in the HE sector required a commitment of a minimum of 5 years and preferably 10 years. RDI’s longest partnership had been for 18 years. Building partnerships required significant investment and their continued success was highly dependent on the stability of people at HEIs. A change in people at an HEI was the most common factor in partnerships’ coming to an end and posed a significant risk to upfront investment made by RDI in any new partnership. This was one reason for RDI’s embarking on the TDAP process.

The investment risks in online provision were significant and took a minimum of 3 years to break even. Winding down online activities took a longer time since preserving the student experience was still the most important consideration. Unwinding a partnership was a costly process.

PANEL QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

In reply to a question, Ian Oakes agreed that not enough was known about the Black Country LEP’s activity and targets.

In reply to a question on RDI future activity, Phillip Hallam explained that achieving TDAP would enable RDI to respond more effectively to market demands whilst strengthening its relationships with its university partners.

CONCLUSION

The Conference concluded at 1530. Patrick Highton thanked colleagues for attendance and stressed the importance of completing Evaluation Forms, since the Black Country Partnership for Learning sought information for further conferences and events.

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