The government has confirmed its plans to introduce industry-backed Tech Levels into the UK further education system from September 2016 with the aim of creating more industry-ready graduates.
Among Tech Levels in subjects such as media, engineering and hairdressing are newly approved vocational courses in the IT sector. There are currently two IT courses on the list of Tech Levels, which will be recognised by new performance tables and are both run by education firm Pearson.
They are listed as the BTEC Level 3 Diploma in IT (QCF) and the BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in IT (QCF). Several other courses from OCR and City & Guilds are also "pending" Tech Level approval. In order to become a recognised Tech Level, a course must receive backing from an industry body or five employers that are representative of the industry.
Current courses operating under the BTEC banner can be upgraded to Tech Level status if they meet the requirements. Furthermore, a list of Applied General qualifications has also been announced, allowing students to take on a broader study of an industry area.
Cisco is among the high-profile businesses that are backing the new Tech Levels, and has endorsed the City & Guilds Level 3 Diploma in ICT Systems Support. In addition, firms such as Microsoft, Oracle and VMware have also certified a variety of Pearson-run BTEC courses set to be upgraded to Tech Levels.
Cisco's UK CEO Phil Smith said his firm's backing of Tech Level courses was part of a push to "re-engineer the perception of technology careers" considered as "boring" by school pupils, adding that the industry still has some way to go before the IT industry's image is fixed. "For those of us who believe science and technology knowledge will provide the backbone of Britain's future, there's clearly work to be done in changing this misconception," he said.
Ninety-one percent of 3,721 vocational courses will be removed from league tables, with only the "gold-standard" courses that are likely to lead directly to employment being recognised.
Minister for skills and enterprise Matthew Hancock said pupils had been let down by irrelevant vocational courses, and that the new qualifications would help redress the balance.
"Tech Levels and Applied General qualifications will give students the skills so vital to getting on in life, preparing them for employment, training and higher education. This will also help meet the skills gap holding back UK businesses," he said.
With the pressure of requiring business backing, course leaders will have to ensure their qualifications stay relevant to industry demand. This in turn will boost the courses' value.
Meanwhile, in primary and secondary education, IT is undergoing a dramatic overhaul with the new computing curriculum due to be adopted by schools in September 2014. However, concerns remain about getting teachers up to the standards required to teach such a complex subject, with funding going towards courses to give teachers a basic knowledge of computing.
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