Tracy Aust

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How Can Colleges Best Support London’s Economic Recovery?

Colleges are and will continue to be pivotal organisations, highly effective in serving the needs of their local communities. They understand their local economies, businesses and residents. These strong relationships with local stakeholders mean they are best placed to meet local needs.

The pandemic has not fundamentally changed this. It has highlighted the critical role that colleges have played in responding to these unprecedented times. Colleges have shown agility, swiftly adapting to remote delivery. They have shown resilience and flexibility in responding to the internal and external challenges. Above all, they have continued to provide education, training and skills whilst supporting students with their well-being and mental health.

We have already heard startling statistics concerning the impact of COVID-19 and this will be an ever-changing picture as we better understand the full extent that this pandemic has had on our society. What is clear, is that previous inequalities have been further exacerbated by COVID-19. It has never been more important for us to work together to tackle these. There is not a one size fits all approach and we know across London, boroughs have been impacted in different ways. As an example, here in Hounslow, the impact on the Aviation community has been devastating and we know that economic recovery will be a long journey. We know that some sectors will have changed irreversibly. That doesn’t mean they won’t recover but the challenges and opportunities they face, will be different.

However, the common theme in this is the role that colleges can play to support recovery. Yes, we will all have specific local challenges and opportunities and these will feed in to the sub-regional, regional and national approaches. But colleges have to be recognised as the anchor institutions they are. It is imperative that we are part of the solution and that means being a key player in both local and regional economic recovery plans.

We all recognise that The Skills for Jobs White Paper identified opportunities. We welcomed skills being placed at the heart of economic recovery and the recognition that colleges will play a vital role in levelling up for people and places. The initiatives around creating skills systems through greater collaboration with employers was positive, as was the new lifelong loan entitlement, offering flexible student finance, making it easier for more adults to retrain as labour markets change. However, in order for these opportunities to be realised they have to be properly funded.

As colleges, we are at the centre of our communities. We understand the needs of the residents we serve. Our strong partnerships with our stakeholders, including employers, makes us well positioned to adopt a strategic approach to economic recovery. In Hounslow for example, this has already started through the work of the Hounslow Economic Recovery Board and at a sub-regional level through the work of the West London Alliance’s Build and Recover Plan. Colleges have worked with West London Alliance partners to support the work that has been commissioned on the demand and supply of skills as well as through the recently launched Further Education and Higher Education Collaboration project. I am sure that similar strategies are being adopted more widely.

As colleges, we have a strong track record of delivering high quality education, training and skills. We will continue to do so, supporting our unemployed young people and adults to gain new skills, helping them to secure and retain meaningful work. Through a coherent and joined up approach, colleges can and should be instrumental in supporting our economy to recover and grow.

This blog is by Tracy Aust: Principal at West Thames College.

This is the fourth in a series of blogs by Collab Group London Principals in the run-up to the London Mayoral Elections 2021

To find out more about West Thames College, check out their website here.

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