University Technical Colleges (UTCs) are government-funded schools with a STEM focus. They provide a unique and relevant approach to education, which addresses the changing needs of students and employers in the 21st century. UTCs were established by companies and universities in areas of high demand for talent. In addition to a core curriculum of English, maths, and sciences, UTCs also offer sought-after technical qualifications, and benefit from industry-standard equipment and specialist staff to provide students with skills valued by employers.
The UTC curriculum has a strong emphasis on employer engagement, including ‘real life’ project-based learning, which engages students and develops their personal character. Because of this unique offer, UTCs allow for a broad choice of pathways at 18: either to university, to higher or degree apprenticeships, or directly into a career.
UTCs are state-funded schools, just like many thousands of others around the country, so they are free for students to attend. UTCs mainly specialise in Science, Technology and Engineering, and students start at Key Stage 4, joining at 13- or 14-years-of-age and going through to the end of Sixth Form.
At UTCs, young people learn many of the same subjects as students at other schools, such as maths, English, and sciences. However, UTC students prepare for technical qualifications as well, such as product design, engineering, and digital. In addition, time is made available during the school day to study other subjects, such as geography, history, or a foreign language.
The choice of technical subjects offered at a UTC depends on its specialisms, of which most UTCs have two. Such specialisms could be engineering and digital, or health and creative media. A UTC’s specialisms are chosen at the outset by the employer partners who help to establish the UTC. Other facets of a UTC education, such as project-based learning in which employers contribute components of the curriculum, employer mentoring, and work experience, are all linked to the specialist subjects offered by the UTC.
Employers are at the heart of every UTC. This is also true for universities. Most young people leaving UTCs either progress to university or go onto the world of work, in an apprenticeship or in a job. By working closely with a UTC, employers and universities get to know young people at the school before recruiting them, almost affording them a long but friendly and supportive interview process. At the same time, this interaction enables UTC students to make informed decisions about their next steps.
In order for UTCs to excel in providing technical qualifications and training, they are fortunate to have industry-standard equipment. This ensures that young people really do learn how to use the up-to-date software and equipment which employers are using right now. All UTCs are in newly- and purpose-built premises, with outstanding facilities and equipment that has been chosen in conjunction with industry leaders.
Strong employer and university engagement enable UTCs to focus on ensuring that students reach their optimal destinations. In addition to academic and technical qualifications, UTCs nurture the attitudes, such as a positive mindset, and aptitudes, such as problem-solving and teamwork, which every employer seeks. As a result, UTC students are very often at the ‘front of the queue’ for popular university courses, or for competitive apprenticeships.
I worked in manufacturing before becoming a MP, and I know how important it is to have the right skills. When you talk to UTC students, you get a true sense of the passion and enthusiasm they have for the skills they are learning here. It is truly inspiring, and we need to be doing more of this.
University Technical Colleges impress me because they are not just training the next generation of STEM professionals and developing a much-needed skills pipeline to the careers of the future, they are also offering their students the opportunity to make the important connection between what they learn in the classroom and how it relates to the real world.
Given the importance of science and engineering to our economy, and the potential skills shortage in these areas, the idea of a school like this is obvious and yet it takes someone to actually do it. That is the genius of the place, that someone has got the concept up-and-running and that they are delivering the curriculum in partnership with organisations such as the Science and Technology Facilities Council.
Over half of the roles in the Royal Navy are engineering. That’s why it’s great that UTCs provide an exciting environment for students to learn all aspects of engineering. We are privileged to be supporting young engineers. We need to encourage this area of expertise. If we do not get this right, we sink and we are not protecting the country. Engineering is our future and young people are our future.