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The Office for Students (OfS) worked collaboratively with the Department for Education on the programme, with the OfS launching a challenge competition in August 2021 seeking bids from universities, colleges and other higher education providers who wished to trial the courses.

The University’s response was led by Kirstie Simpson, Associate Professor in the Chester Business School, drawing on the expertise of colleagues in the Faculty’s new Centre for Professional and Economic Development. The University’s proposal is to develop a new Level 4 Gateway Certificate in Professional Education for Change and Resilience, using the Faculty’s existing Work-Based and Integrative Studies Framework (WBIS). This will involve the creation of new 10-credit modules – smaller ‘chunks’ of credit than are currently available to employed learners. The new short course will be aimed at employed people who have never had the opportunity to engage with higher education, but who have the desire and ability to progress in their careers, and/or returners to higher education who undertook their original qualification many years ago. 

The course is designed to offer a manageable and accessible (re)introduction to higher-level learning, which will build confidence and awareness of the options to progress beyond the short course.

As part of its long-term strategy, the University of Chester has undertaken significant engagement with key employment sectors, particularly healthcare and those related to industrial decarbonisation and Net Zero. This work has highlighted that these sectors are evolving rapidly, and so are the skills required to undertake existing and emerging roles. With 80% of the workforce of 2030 already in the workplace, upskilling and reskilling are major challenges for the UK. The proposed short course responds directly to this, developing workplace skills that can be tailored to the employment sectors that need them, and addressing immediate demand, while also developing a workforce with the ability to continue to learn and adapt. 

A range of employers and stakeholders was consulted on the idea for the project and, as part of the development of the new short course, the team will consult further with these partners, which include: Shropshire Chamber of Commerce; Warrington Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Progressive Energy Ltd; The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB); Motrac Research Engineering Ltd; Altimex Ltd and Warrington and Vale Royal College.

Kirstie said: “I am extremely pleased that we have been awarded funding to develop this new short course, and thank the academic team that developed the concept.  This further move towards smaller, more flexible ‘chunks’ of learning, which can be built up into a larger qualification, will provide employed people with the opportunity to gain new skills to enhance their career options, as well as providing employers with the skill set they need.

“I am grateful to all our partners for helping to make our submission a success, and we look forward to continuing to consult them on our ideas.”

Twenty-two universities and colleges have been awarded a total of £2 million in funding to develop short courses in higher education. The courses will run at universities and colleges across England and will be offered at levels four to six. They will cover a wide range of topics, from creative coding to courses which help prepare the UK for a carbon Net Zero future.

The courses form part of a pathway towards the delivery of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE,) with pilot short courses to run from the 2022-23 academic year. Learning from the programme will help inform future LLE policy development.  

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said: “I am pleased to announce the successful bidders for these important courses. The courses cover a range of subjects at universities and colleges from all parts of the country. They will help people – including those who might already have significant work experience – learn new skills and retrain for a career change. This type of flexibility is important and will help employers fill skills gaps which are essential for their businesses and support future economic growth. At the same time students will be able to benefit from higher education for short periods of time, which will enable them to further their careers, as well as giving them the opportunity to go on and gain a full degree.”

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