Is UK hospitality education buckling under pressure? - Insights

Is UK hospitality education buckling under pressure?

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Imagine your business in 10 years time; the cacophony and paralysis of Brexit is in the past (Possibly, Probably, Unlikely, – delete as appropriate), you are continuing to try to grow your business, but despite the initial promise of the new Government Industry Strategy the ‘Tourism Sector Deal’,  the skilled staff shortages are ever present. In a quiet moment you reflect that you no longer seem to be getting job applications for entry or graduate positions from students and ask, “Where have all the students gone?  What’s happened to hospitality education in the UK?”

The local FE colleges catering and hospitality departments have closed and the well-known and reputable universities that you have worked with in the past have ceased to offer hospitality education. You find it impossible to navigate the complexity of the apprenticeship systems and the very few school leavers applying for posts with the new catering T level award think they’re qualified to be your new Chef de Partie.

Is this scenario Possible, Probably or Unlikely?

‘Probably’ is the most likely scenario.  The current evidence reinforces that there are real threats to the future of hospitality education in the UK. Research shows there is:

  • A significant decline in the number of students enrolled on catering and hospitality courses in further education colleges
  • A very significant decline in the number of catering and hospitality apprentices
  • A decline in the number of higher education institutions offering and championing hospitality related education
  • The introduction of the new T level qualifications to rival A-levels will not include hospitality but will include catering
  • The current review of 16 to 19 qualifications has the aim of significantly reducing the number of existing professional post 16 qualifications by removing funding

Decline in FE students

This is more than the anecdotal.  According to the available Government data tables, FE enrolments on all regulated hospitality and catering qualifications has reduced by 35% over the last two years. Between the academic years 2016/17 to 2017/18 there has been a decline of 50,940 enrolments in all qualifications from entry level to level 4 as illustration 1 shows.

As with all data it should be treated with caution. The data indicates the number of enrolments onto regulated qualifications, not the number of students. The actual number of students will be smaller as some of those students will be enrolled on more than one award. For example the data includes students enrolled on Level 2 Awards in Food Safety ( 16,508 in 2016/17, 15,330 in 2017/18) who may well be enrolled on other qualifications.

This reduction in enrolments is particularly marked at level 2, from 97,460 in 2016/17 to 59,600 in 2017/18. This is shown in the illustration. When compared by types of award, the reduction in chefs related enrolments is down from some 40,000 to just over 24,000. With this rapid decline in enrolments, FE Colleges, who are under enormous funding pressures, will be looking to cut costs and where necessary cut courses. Catering &  Hospitality Departments are more expensive to run than classroom based courses and if minimum numbers fall below break even it is inevitable that they will close.

Decline in apprentices

The past 6 years has seen a marked decline in the number of hospitality and catering apprentices from a high point in 2012/13 of 35,600 to the current low in 2017/18 of 14,719. This represents a 58% reduction and is a dramatic fall as illustration 2 shows.

This is probably in part due to changes in the apprenticeship system and the introduction of the apprentice levy on the 4th April 2017. The most significant fall appears to have occurred post the announcement of the levy in the 2015 budget. The changes to apprenticeships and the funding systems have also produced a number of consequences that have certainly changed the industry perception of what an ‘apprentice’ is, particularly in levy paying companies.

The much praised and understood apprenticeships for 16-19 year olds as an entry to the profession has almost disappeared.  In 2017/18 there were less than 700 under 19 year olds starting as apprentice chefs. An analysis of the age profile of hospitality and catering apprentices across the range of apprenticeship pathways indicates that less than 22% are under 19, whilst almost 45% are over 25.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some large companies, paying the apprentice levy, are recouping that payment through putting current employees and more senior staff on intermediate and advanced level apprenticeships. This could be seen as a form of professional development but is rather counter to the traditional view of what is an ‘apprentice’. Whilst they may be classified as ‘apprentices’ they are not new entrants to the industry. It may help retention but not recruitment of new staff.

The recently announced Tourism Sector Deal commits the industry to increase the number of new apprentice starts to 30,000 by 2015. Any increase is very welcome but some ten years on this would still be below the 2015/16 number.

The decline in Hospitality in Higher Education

In 2014 there were 142 hospitality related courses being offered in 64 institutions, that has now reduced to 127 courses although the number of institutions remains at 64. The number of institutions however masks some significant changes in the types of institutions offering hospitality courses.

Some universities, for example Glasgow Caledonian University, Oxford Brookes and  Bournemouth have signalled that they are withdrawing from hospitality. However an increased number of London based private colleges (12) are now offering Higher National Diploma programmes that target international students.

Since 2014, there has been a clear reduction in the number of courses where hospitality is offered as the primary or single subject, as well as a reduction in courses where hospitality is offered in combination with other subjects. Both indicators suggest that the role of hospitality as a major subject area within higher education institutions is on the decline and the past higher education champions of the industry are disappearing.

The introduction of  T Levels

T levels are being introduced in 2020/21 as an alternative technical route to A-levels. These new awards will offer a binary choice for 16 to 18-year-olds. Either an A-level route or a T level route. The Government Consultation Paper, Review of Post 16 Qualifications, states that these are being designed as, “prestigious technical alternatives to A-levels, aligned with work-based technical education delivered at level 3 through apprenticeships”. It goes on to state; “T levels are the centrepiece of our (government) plans; rigorous, stretching programs of study at level 3 based on recognised employer led standards”.

But not for the hospitality industry.

The T levels qualifications are being designed as the equivalent to 3 A-levels. The content is to be based on the relevant level 3 apprentice standard to ensure comparability between the work based and academic route. For hospitality, the approved level 3 apprentice standard is Hospitality Supervisor. The very title implies a level of seniority within the industry and the entry criteria suggest “…it is expected that the individual would have worked within operational role within the industry to start on this apprenticeship standard”.

However the Department  for Education (DfE) have taken the view that the hospitality apprentice standard on which the T level would be based has insufficient content to be developed as a T level qualification. Therefore, the hospitality route will only be available as an apprenticeship. This decision poses some fairly fundamental questions.

What is the rationale for developing a 16-19 qualification based on an occupational standard that applies to a specialist industry role that requires operational industry experience?

By determining the content of T levels from apprentice standards, that content must be narrowly drawn, based as it is on a specific job role. This prevents a much wider curriculum content such as would be found in the widely recognised current range of level 3 certificate and diploma programmes. It also prevents combining the breadth of both catering and hospitality subjects from which students have traditionally made progression and career choices.

Secondly, what 16 year old would have sufficient operational experience to undertake this standard as an apprenticeship?

Thirdly, with parents, schools and colleges putting pressure on 16 year olds to remain in mainstream education and aspire to higher education, will apprenticeships be a realistic option?

No. The evidence of this is very clear. For the academic year 2017/18, there were only 46 under-19 apprentice starts for the hospitality apprenticeship standard. As the data is only collected for under 19 year olds, it cannot be determined how many of the 46 may have completed 16-  to 18- education before embarking on the apprenticeship.

The ‘good news’ is that there will be a T level in Catering but it will be based on the Level 3 apprenticeship standards of Chef de Partie and a Senior Production Chef. Comments such as ‘crazy’ come to mind, as it is difficult to understand how 16-18 year olds would be able to undertake a T level with content that is based on complex roles that require a strong professional skills foundation and relevant experience.

All of this suggests a narrowing of choice for students and a lack of progression and career opportunities. It is not just the lack of a T level of hospitality route, further reductions in choice and progression are an inevitable outcome of the current qualifications review.

Review of Post-16 Qualifications at Level 3

The object of the review is, ”to streamline qualifications for post-16, ensuring that we (government) only fund those that are high-quality, have a distinct purpose, are truly necessary and support progression to successful outcomes”. The implications are clear – a reduction in choice for the potential student.  Level 3 courses that will be considered in the review include: Certificate in Hospitality and Catering Principles (Professional Cookery), Diploma in Advanced Professional Cookery, Diploma in Food and Beverage Service Supervision, Diploma in Hospitality Supervision and Leadership, and the Diploma in Hospitality.

These are all well respected and recognised qualifications, but will they still be available in 10 years time?

The existing professional cookery qualifications must be considered under threat given the catering T level developments. The hospitality options are similarly threatened, not by the non-existent hospitality T level, but by the decline in FE student enrolments and the intention to remove existing qualifications in order to fund T levels. The potential catering students will at least have some sort of choice, but not so potential hospitality students. They face no T level option and probably a reduced choice or no choice of suitable alternative qualifications. For those wishing to progress to a hospitality route in higher education, the choice is becoming very limited as illustration 3 shows.

Probably – The most likely scenario

It is difficult to see another outcome based on the current evidence. Hospitality education and training is in rapid decline and the new developments are further exacerbating an already very difficult situation.  Where does the solution lie? With the government? They certainly are a major player in this. The government in the Tourism Sector Deal have committed ‘to work closely with the industry’ but our past experiences suggests that the education and training voice is not always listened to.

In order to ensure that we have that voice, we need to be proactive. At a recent meeting with the Department for Education it was clear they will only respond to what they refer to, as ‘evidence’. The industry must now respond and react. We must collect that evidence and use that evidence to put pressure on the wider communities and stakeholders such as local MP’s, local and regional professional and trade associations, LEP’s and tourist boards, as well as colleges and universities. We must evidence our concerns and take these to the embryonic Tourism and Hospitality Skills Board and central government.  We must have positive proposals for improving hospitality education and training. We must ensure that our voice is heard and we are not marginalised and left behind again.

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