Former cabinet member Michael Portillo believes there could be a “big focus” on Work Based Learning (WBL), as a result of the public spending changes made by the Coalition Government.
Portillo, who now works as a political commentator and journalist, was at a Network & Speaker event at Middlesex University and gave an interview before the event.
He said the proposed changes to part-time studying will give those at work, who wish to learn part-time, more options on how and when to study, which will be a “revolution” for higher education.
“It's essential for productivity and innovation that we should have a highly educated workforce and management. And universities stand there to produce people with high qualities of training and learning,” he said.
With the Coalition Government talking about cuts in higher education spending, many believe WBL initiatives – where students earn university qualifications with the help of their employers – could provide a cost-effective route to higher education qualifications.
A cultural change towards more work based learning could mean less reliance on state finances and revolutionise how and when people go into higher education.
“I think there's going to be a big new focus on work based learning as a result of the public spending changes which are being made,” said Portillo, adding that one of the more important changes will be the proposed adjustments to part-time student financing.
He also believes with students now potentially having to pay market price for their education, they will become savvier about when they enter higher education.
“What I think is going to happen now is you are going to have very discerning customers who are going to be concerned about what they are buying, and maybe thinking about what is the best time in life to actually buy it.
“And part-time students - who are improving their education or starting a degree course for the first time when they are in work at a higher stage of maturity – are maybe in a very good position to make the best of the courses they are offered.
“So I think we are actually quite an important stage here. It's something of a revolution and certainly a landmark along the way.”
Portillo added that people get most of their education when they are relatively immature and further learning allows people to continue developing and keep up with changing times.
By participating at the Middlesex University event, Portillo said he hopes to raise awareness of how businesses might be able to benefit from the skills and expertise of universities.
The former Conservative MP for Enfield said he is impressed by Middlesex University’s WBL initiative, pointing out that 180 of the 1200 students in the WBL programme were studying for a doctorate.
“These are people - and judging by the list of those who are attending today these are spread through some prestigious household companies - who in their workplace are finding the opportunity to improve their knowledge. And pursue courses that are not only relevant to themselves but actually to their employers as well.
“And I think that's very important.”