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What are Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQ's)?

Higher technical education uptake is low in England, despite high industry demand for skills equivalent to Level 4 and 5 qualifications. Approximately 1 in 10 adults in England have a higher technical qualification (HTQ), one of the lowest figures in the OECD. With HTQs looking to address this skills gap, we will explore what they are and what you need to know. 

Introducing HTQs

Higher Technical Qualifications refer to new or existing Level 4 and 5 qualifications, they hold a core focus on technical and vocational skills and are considered the next stage along from T-levels. Types of qualifications can include higher national diplomas, foundation degrees, higher national certificates and more. 

Studying either full time or part time for a duration of 1-2 years, HTQs are ideal for students over 18 wanting to develop high levels of knowledge, skills, and behaviours needed for specific occupations. 

As such, these higher-level qualifications seek to play a crucial role in addressing and plugging the national skills gaps at a higher technical level that has long lagged behind other countries; approximately 10% of adults in England hold a Level 4 or 5 qualification compared to roughly 34% in Canada, partly due to a lack of student and employer awareness. The Government have set out plans to overcome this skills shortage, which will be explored next. 

Policy Background

In July 2020, the Department for Education announced its action plan to boost quality and uptake of higher technical education by introducing HTQ’s as an alternative to apprenticeships or degrees, sitting between A levels or T levels and degrees. 

Forming part of a wider government pursuit to stimulate technical education and offer flexible learning, HTQs therefore are a central part of the government’s ambition to accelerate quality improvements for Level 4 and 5 qualifications and drive long-term post-18 skills system reforms.

To support providers in this pursuit of HTQ delivery and growth, in 2022 to 2023 this included £32 million of funding through the HTE skills injection fund for providers who met the eligibility criteria, as well as £8 million through the strategic priorities grant. 

Higher education institutions, further education colleges, institutes of technology, and other providers that intend to submit qualifications to the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) for approval need to do so within set approval windows, which bring us onto the next point. 

Which courses have been approved by IFATE so far and what’s next?

IfATE is an employer led organisation and the body responsible for approving submitted qualifications, providing a four year roll out period for a variety of sector specific courses and routes to gain approval before becoming a HTQ.

The IfATE’s rigorous approval process is designed to give credibility and support quality assurance to students and employers that qualifications with the HTQ quality mark (an approved HTQ) are of high quality, align to occupational standards, and are developed closely with employers. 

From September 2022, approved HTQs in the digital route from the first cycle begun teaching for those wanting to join the digital workforce in digital occupations such as cyber security. 

Cycle 2 approvals windows closed in 2021 and will begin teaching in 2023. These include courses in health and science and construction routes.  

The third application window closed in 2022 which includes business and admin, education and childcare, engineering and manufacturing, legal, finance and accounting routes, and will begin delivery in September 2024. 

Finally, applications for the 4th Cycle open in May 2023 and close in June 2023, including occupational standards in many difference sectors such as creative and design, care services, and protective services which will start teaching from 2025.

For further information on course specific details, IfATE provide a list of qualifications that have gained approval or are awaiting approval on their website

Want to learn more? 

Inside Government’s upcoming Future of Higher Technical Qualifications Conference brings together providers, institutions, and employers to explore the current HTQ landscape, what the future of funding looks like including through the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, how to address current challenges in design, and will offer an opportunity to share experience, ideas, and best practice on HTQ course teaching and delivery. 

View the agenda here