Latest Gatsby report shows that England is distinctive in its lack of higher technical education

13 December 2018 Agnes Donnelly

The report, authored by Simon Field, a leading independent expert on country skills systems, examines what he calls the ‘missing middle’ of higher technical education (HTE) in England through a historical and international comparative study.

Latest Gatsby report shows that England is distinctive in its lack of higher technical education

Against the backdrop of the Post-18 Review of Education and Funding and the Review of Level 4 and 5 Education, The missing middle: higher technical education in England was commissioned by Gatsby to explore how the HTE system in England reached the point where it is today and how current provision compares with other countries. Within the report, the author proposes eight policy pointers to be considered when deciding what could be done to address this gap in the system.

HTE qualifications are at levels 4 and 5; beyond school-leaver level but below that of bachelor’s degrees. They have played a large part in the English education system in the past and continue to play a large role in countries like the United States and France. Countries such as Sweden, that have more recently established programmes at this level, are also taking a proactive approach to further developing HTE provision.

Whilst data from 2014/15 indicates that almost 90% of those enrolled at levels 4 and 5 in England were in HTE, the overall numbers at these levels in England do not compare well with other countries and represent a much smaller part of English higher education provision than in decades past.

Simon Field, author of the report, said: “What can, and should, be done about the missing middle? Looking to the future, the real challenge is to offer technical programmes and qualifications at levels 4 and 5 that provide real competition to the three-year degree that currently dominates the landscape. Higher technical programmes, through strong links to employers and the labour market, innovative and flexible forms of delivery, and demonstrable high quality and prestige, can offer a real alternative to three-year degrees for both young people and adults."

Jennifer Allen, Programme Manager at Gatsby, said: “Gatsby believes that higher technical education has a crucial role to play in the education system. There is a great deal we can learn from the history of higher technical education in England, as well as from international comparisons, to inform the future development of this provision. We encourage all stakeholders involved in higher technical education to make their voices heard as part of the government’s Post-18 and Level 4-5 reviews.”

To read the full report, please click here.

To read Simon Field’s blog on the report for WonkHE, please click here. 

For a hard copy of the report, or to learn more about our work on higher technical education, please contact Faye Riley at

Latest Gatsby report shows that England is distinctive in its lack of higher technical education