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Celebrating further education: a vital partner in the post-COVID rebuild

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This week is Love Our Colleges Week. At The Open University, we recognise and greatly respect the crucial contribution that Further Education makes to individuals, communities, employers and the economy.

As fellow educators, we share the same mission to unlock people’s potential through accessible education. With the UK facing an uncertain economic future due to COVID-19 – with unemployment set to soar and the skills gap already a threat to business – the FE sector is more vital than ever.

By working together, we can help individuals and businesses not only to survive, but to thrive, in a changing and challenging landscape. We’re proud to work in partnership with the FE sector to equip learners with the skills and confidence that they – and their employers - need for success.


A climbing frame, not a ladder

At The Open University, we think of education as a climbing frame, not a ladder. There isn’t just one way up, nor is up the only direction.

There are different routes to suit different learners: some upskilling with higher qualifications; others moving laterally, retraining for a new career; but everyone able to choose a route that suits their aspirations and abilities.

We’re here for learners - wherever they are, whatever they need – and we’re developing partnerships with FE that help to reach more people during the current crisis.


Our partnership with FE

As the UK enters a new period of recession and unemployment, we support the FE sector’s call for a skills-led recovery plan, where access to education helps people and businesses unlock their economic potential.

We currently partner with 30 FE colleges across the UK, reaching 4,200 learners through a combination of validation and content licensing. This provides learners with access to a wider range of resources, courses and qualifications to progress their career, all within a supported local learning environment at their local college.

Partnerships like this are particularly valuable in HE ‘cold spots’ – such as geographically remote areas – where learners can struggle to access HE and employers face a significant skills gap as a result.


Rapid digital transition

Whilst online learning has been on the agenda for FE for many years, the pandemic has forced the hand of many providers with mainly classroom-based delivery. With local lockdowns and COVID restrictions limiting face-to-face learning, it has now become critical to institutions’ ability to deliver. The FE sector has risen admirably to the challenge and now have a foundation on which to build further innovation.

The OU is committed to working with colleges to build from that foundation, and we’re working with representative bodies from the sector to establish ways in which we can contribute to the further development of FE’s digital offer and online portfolio.


Stronger together

Our partnerships with FE demonstrate our mission in action, supporting social justice and mobility by making education more accessible for all.

We know that to achieve that mission, we don’t just need to be ‘open’ in terms of delivery methods or entry requirements. We need to be open to collaboration that will help us deliver life-changing opportunities to learners and help power the UK’s recovery from Coronavirus. 

As we face uncertain times, it is important that we pull together for the benefit of both the economy and the education sector we are all proud to represent.

The future may not be certain but – if the current crisis has taught us anything – it is that we are stronger standing together than alone.

Nicole Edgington, Head of Education Partnerships, The Open University

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