07 February 2022

Universities and colleges must prioritise working together to address skills gaps and regional inequalities

A new report a new report from leading experts– including Commissioner on UK Independent Commission on the College of the Future and Edinburgh College Principal and CEO, Audrey Cumberford – calling for greater collaboration between colleges and universities has set out recommendations for governments and sector leaders to support regional priorities and deliver UK-wide economic recovery.

The Independent Commission on the College of the Future (of which Edinburgh College Principal Audrey Cumberford is a Commissioner) , the Civic University Network and Sheffield Hallam University have published Going Further and Higher: How collaboration between colleges and universities can transform lives and places. With case studies and analysis from across the four nations of the UK, the joint report is a call to arms for the two sectors to work together. 

The report argues that further and higher education must no longer be pitted against each other - both nationally and locally - if post-16 education and skills systems across the UK are to deliver on pressing societal challenges such as closing skills gaps, supporting economic recovery, and delivering on net-zero goals.  

The report identifies how unequal investment and a lack of clarity on the role that universities and colleges play has led to years of unnecessary tension. It warns that post-16 education and skills systems can suffer from being too confusing and difficult to navigate for both students and employers and that competition between institutions exacerbates this. 

It calls on colleges, universities and governments to commit to creating joined-up education and skills systems with a focus on shared responsibility for the sectors to deliver for people, employers and their places. 

Amongst a number of key recommendations, the report calls on governments across the UK to commit to a more balanced investment and to define the distinct but complementary roles of colleges and universities through a new 10-year strategy.

Following extensive consultation and input from education leaders and policymakers from the four nations, the report provides a blueprint for more collaboration between institutions to support people, employers and communities. The recommendations apply to varying degrees across the four nations, with many of them inspired by existing practice and policy.


Recommendations for sector leaders, which focus on creating strong local networks:

  1. Agree the institutions who are involved in the network and embrace the local geography and specialisms that already exist.

  2. Develop a cohesive education and skills offer for local people, employers and communities built around lifelong learning, ensuring inefficient duplication and competition is reduced.

  3. Move beyond personal relationships and agree how the whole institution is involved in collaboration, with clear roles and shared responsibility for partnership.

Recommendations to governments across the four nations to build better education and skills systems:

  1. Set an ambitious 10-year strategy to ensure lifelong learning for all and to deliver on national ambitions. 

  2. Balance investment in FE and HE to ensure the whole education and skills system is sustainably funded so that colleges and universities can work in the interests of their local people, employers and communities.

  3. Equal maintenance support across loans and grants for HE and FE students, regardless of age, personal circumstances, or route into education.

  4. Tackle the ‘messy middle’ by defining distinct but complementary roles for colleges and universities to avoid a turf war over who delivers various types of education and training.

  5. Create a single funding and regulatory body for the entire post-16 education and skills system in each nation to deliver more aligned and complementary regulatory approaches that will ensure smoother learner journeys.

The report also provides a number of UK-wide case studies of best practice for policymakers, institutions and sector leaders to learn from.


“As the Principal of Scotland’s capital college, I know the impact that is possible when education and skills leaders collaborate for the good for their region. This report sets out the untapped potential of what colleges and universities can do together. In Scotland we are increasingly operating in a coherent strategic policy environment, with strong recognition for the concept of a national tertiary ecosystem. Working more and more symbiotically has meant that we have established good practice in learner-focused articulation from college to university, which is rightly highlighted in this report.”
Audrey Cumberford, Principal and CEO at Edinburgh College and member of the Independent Commission on the College of the Future
“This report rightly highlights that universities and colleges are vital institutions offering transformational education and skills. If we are to face the long-term impacts of the pandemic and to drive a sustainable, inclusive economy, then it is clear they have to increasingly do this together. “The report marks a moment when the two sectors can commit to delivering on a bold joint mission for supporting people, productivity and places. I know from my time in both sectors that many leaders are driving the change needed to bring this to life. Through the work of the Commission we have drawn great learnings from practice and policy across the four nations. This report champions the best of what exists.”
Sir Ian Diamond, Chair of the Independent Commission on the College of the Future

Going further and higher: how collaboration between colleges and universities can transform lives and places