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Open University embarks on £10m scheme to offer more advanced technical courses across the UK

The new scheme aims to target higher education "cold spots" and plug gaps where courses are currently unavailable

The logo for the Open University

The Open University (OU) is to partner with local education institutes to provide higher technical courses in a bid to combat the skills gap.

The scheme is to be backed by £10 million of government funding with the aim of supporting more varied college courses for students to find highly skilled, high wage jobs.

Under the scheme, which has been announced by the Higher and Further Education minister, Michelle Donelan, OU will specifically work with colleges to offer courses that are not currently available in their region.

These will be much shorter courses than traditional three-year degrees and offer a mix of face-to-face and online learning. The aim is to boost access to higher education and technical training and increase the number of students earning level 4 and 5 qualifications.

Levels 4 and 5 refer to specific technical qualifications, such as apprenticeships, NVQs, and foundation degrees. There is a low take-up of these types of skills in the UK, according to the government's own research, with an "acute" shortage of technician-level STEM skills attributed to an "undersupply of people" with levels 3-5 vocational qualifications over the last two decades.

Only 10% of all adults aged 18- 65 hold a level 4-5 qualification as their highest, compared to around 20% of adults in Germany or 34% in Canada. And, based on current patterns, England's position within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) rankings is likely to worsen, according to the government.

"For too long, people have had to look beyond their hometown for higher education courses," the minister for Higher and Further Education, Michelle Donelan said. "The government is backing The Open University with the funding and support to partner up with local colleges to offer high-quality higher education and training, targeting cold spots across the country, so everyone can up-skill wherever they live."

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