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Transforming Higher Technical Education (HTE) in England: Insights from the Department for Education

By Alex Reuben, Head of Higher Technical Education Strategy at the Department for Education. You can learn more from Alex during his opening keynote session at Inside Governments the Future of Higher Technical Qualifications Conference 2023.

What is HTE and why are we reforming the system?

HTE is how we refer to classroom-based technical education at levels 4 and 5. It sits between A or T Levels (level 3), and degrees (level 6) and typically consist of one- or two-year qualifications. Learners can choose from a range of qualifications such as Higher Nationals (HNC/HND), Foundation Degrees (FD), and Certificates/ Diplomas of Higher Education (Cert/DipHE). 

HTE leads to highly skilled jobs, including software developer, construction site supervisor and nursing associate, with strong employer demand and good outcomes for learners. Despite this, take up is low compared to other levels of study. In England, 4% of people have a level 4/5 qualification as their highest by the age of 25 (vs. 27% at Level 6, and 26% at Level 3).   This is often referred to as the “missing middle” in our skills system.

Our review found a range of reasons for the generational decline in study at this level. There are many types of qualification at this level, but it can be hard for learners and employers to identify qualifications providing the skills employers need. There also isn’t the same prestige attached to courses at level 4 and 5 compared to degrees, with low awareness among potential students and the public about the value these courses can provide.

How are we tackling these challenges and transforming HTE?

Our flagship reform at levels 4 and 5 is the introduction of Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs). HTQs are new and existing qualifications at level 4 and 5 that are approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education as meeting employers’ skills needs. They are based on the same employer-led standards as apprenticeships and T levels, placing employers at the heart of our skills system. 

We are now at an exciting stage of this reform programme. HTQs began teaching from September 2022 – starting with Digital HTQs – and all occupational routes are due to be rolled out by 2025, where relevant occupational standards are available. To date 106 qualifications have been approved as HTQs across the Digital, Construction, and Health & Science routes, for teaching this academic year or next.  

Alongside this, we are investing over £50m of funding to provide the investment and support needed to grow high-quality HTE, including HTQs, across the country. This is being delivered through the HTE Growth Fund, HTE Skills Injection Fund, funding for the Open University to partner with FE providers to expand provision, and a Strategic Priorities Grant uplift. We are also providing up to £300m to establish 21 Institutes of Technology as flagship providers of HTE across the country, providing learners with a route into STEM-based occupations. This is complemented by a range of measures to raise demand, including through cross-Government campaigns for young people, adults, and employers.

These reforms are already having an impact for learners across the country. For example, see here: how Sam’s HTQ in computing will give him the skills he needs for a great start in the tech industry.

What’s next for our reforms?

As HTQs roll out across different occupational routes up to the start of the 2025 academic year, we are continuing to make them more accessible for learners. We are putting the student finance package for HTQs on a par with degrees from next academic year (2023/24). This will expand access to maintenance loans, especially for those studying part time, helping learners fit study around work and other commitments.

And from 2025, HTQs will be at the forefront of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE). This new, streamlined funding system for provision across levels 4 to 6 will enable people to train, retrain, and upskill to meet the needs of the economy and advance their careers. HTQs will be at the heart of this, with eligibility for modular funding from the LLE’s introduction. We have just outlined the details of our approach to HTQ modularity for the LLE in the consultation response here: CP 801 – Department for Education – Lifelong Loan Entitlement – Government consultation response – March 2023 (

Taken together, our ambitious reforms aim to reverse the decline in HTE, by building a high-quality, prestigious, and accessible system for learners of all ages. We look forward to continuing working with everyone with an interest and desire in achieving that goal and ensuring our reforms deliver the greatest possible benefit for learners and employers across the country.

Our Future of Higher Technical Qualifications action day will provide deep dive workshops to understand the approvals process and assess the best way to deliver HTQ’s, drawing experience from institutions already teaching digital courses. Find out more by clicking the event link: