Opportunities for Finnish concepts and solutions in the UK education market

Opportunities for Finnish concepts and solutions in the UK education market

The UK Government and devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland plan large scale investments into education in the next few years (pre-COVID plans). There are also plans for a comprehensive reform of the technical and vocational education and training (TVET), which bears many links to wider political strategies and aims such as increasing skills and productivity.

Finland’s achievements in education are well known in the UK, which provides an excellent market opportunity for Finnish learning concepts and solutions in the UK. Finland’s offering could be especially strong where tailored solutions are needed to address certain areas of difficulty, such as the prevention of school exclusions. There are also opportunities for Finnish edtech companies.

Features of the UK education market

The UK education market overall is very large – education (schools) spending is around £92 billion per year. The market is complex, mature, diverse and highly competitive, but accessible. Instead of having one common UK market, each of the four UK countries – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – have their own markets, each with their own policies and priorities and centralised public sector procurement systems. A proportion of procurements is dealt with by individual institutions, which can be approached via intermediary organisations.

The UK education and schools system is devolved to each of the four UK nations. The sector receives much media and parliamentary attention, and improving schools is a key priority area. The Government recently decided to make big investments into schools: compared to 2019—20 levels, a £7.1 billion increase in funding by 2022—23 is in the plans. The total Government spending on Early Years was about £5.8 billion in 2017—18. The sector revenue in 2019 is £32.5 billion with a forecast of negative Annual Growth of -1.0% between 2015-20. The sector has been struggling in balancing expansion of provision with enhanced quality and management.

The TVET (technical and vocational education and training) market is diverse and complex. Although TVET is a devolved matter and there is no single TVET policy in the UK, the overall policy approach and some funding comes from the UK Government. The sector has usually received less political or public attention, and the level of public finance for TVET has fallen in recent years. There is, however, a longstanding issue of a lack of highly skilled workforce, and a high demand for vocational and technical training. The Government Spending Round in 2019 promised £400 million for 2020—21 for the TVET sector.

The Government now attempts to rebalance the education market towards skills. The UK’s aim is to make TVET an equally viable alternative to academic education. Improving skills is also at the heart of the UK’s Industrial Strategy, a high-level cross-government policy. The Government seeks to engage with employers in both designing and delivering TVET to ensure that the system is demand-led. Workplace learning and apprenticeships have become to play important role in addressing the skill shortage. National Retraining Scheme, backed up with £100 million by the Government, aims, among other things, to improve the availability of apprenticeships. In September 2020 the UK is also going to introduce the T levels – technical study programmes combining classroom learning and “on-the-job experience”. The T levels programme enjoys substantial extra funds from the Government.

The Higher Education sector receives a lot of political attention. The sector has been thriving, large, competitive and demand driven. The sector expected, before the coronavirus crisis, a 10% growth in student numbers over the next four years. In recent years, the Government has increasingly delivered Higher Education by using market mechanisms (e.g. by relying more on student choice and provider competition). Some 85% of up-front funding has directly followed student choice via tuition fee loans, whereas the same number was 23% in 2007/08. In Higher Education, current interests lie in digitalisation, higher-level skills training, personalisation, and in addressing inequalities.

The EdTech market has been growing across all areas of education in the UK. Investment in the field comes from several sources, including the Government, non-profit organisations and corporations. In addition to EdTech, the development of students’ and workers’ digital skills is considered as ever more important as digitalisation proceeds. EdTech is also considered to be the key factor in enabling personalisation of education – which the whole UK education market is increasingly trending towards.  More personalised learning could mean, for instance, preventing school exclusions, improving learner decision-making, online and distance learning, reaching those young people who are considered as “hard to reach”, enhancing the quality of T levels, or helping learners with disabilities.

England’s EdTech strategy, funded by £10 million, seeks to materialise the potential of technology in education. Technology is seen to have potential in reducing teachers’ workload, furthering teachers’ professional development, boosting student outcomes, helping level the playing field for those with special needs and disabilities, developing digital skills, promoting digital safety and promoting effective procurement. Tech firms work together with the education sector to find the best practices. EdTech Fund supports organisations that try to develop digital tools to facilitate teachers’ administrative tasks. There have also been several Government initiatives to address directly the importance of workers’ digital skills in the context of digital economy (e.g. the National College for Digital Skills and the Digital Strategy).

Scotland’s own EdTech strategy aims at raising attainment and equity for learners aged 13—18, increasing digital learning and teaching in schools, improving access to digital technology for all learners and employing technology in areas of curriculum and assessment delivery. Scotland’s Digital Schools programme tests innovative approaches to high-level digital skills development in secondary schools. Similar digital skills programme is also being implemented in TVET. Wales, in turn, has also publicly recognised the importance of more developed digital skills for the economy. It has allocated an additional £50 million to a programme aiming at improving the use of technology for teaching and learning in schools. Northern Ireland has similar policy initiatives to address the need for digital transformation of education. For instance, the Education Authority has received funds to develop a new school network system to facilitate the running of management duties.

The UK sees a great potential for growth in education related exports directed to emerging markets in developing countries. The Government’s ambition is to increase these exports by 75% between 2016 and 2030. The UK has also launched a strategy on working with international partners with regard to this endeavour, hence the UK could serve as a springboard also for Finnish partners and companies aiming at developing markets.

Specific opportunities for Finnish expertise and solutions

Finland’s achievements in education in terms of quality and results are wide-known in the UK. This provides an excellent market opportunity for exporting education and learning concepts. However, the UK education market is highly competed. Opportunities can be found across the UK, particularly in digital education and tackling skill shortages. Devolved administrations could offer many interesting opportunities for Finnish companies, and are also easier to penetrate. As the English education market is very complex and characterised by central procurement as well as devolution of purchasing budgets to the local level, it is advisable to work with intermediary organisations in England and the whole UK.

Finnish expertise in personalisation of education could be a valuable asset in succeeding in the UK market at all levels. Finnish expertise can add value and deliver results in areas of difficulty for the UK (such as how to prevent school exclusions), and in teaching special groups.

 In TVET, Finland has already implemented certain reforms which the UK is working on currently. Even if there is comparatively less money being invested in TVET than in other sectors of education, there are certain “sweet spots” where there would be considerable opportunities for Finnish solutions and models. These are areas where policies drive UK activity: the introduction of T levels, the new focus on life-long learning (the Government’s new National Retraining Scheme) and digital skills, the move towards cloud-based student record systems, and the emphasis on STEM subjects. 

In EdTech there are opportunities for Finnish companies through several regional and other initiatives.

 

Team Finland UK commissioned a study on the opportunities for Finnish expertise and solutions in the UK education market in 2019. The report contains detailed information about the market structure and ways to approach it as well as concrete recommendations for Finnish education exporters. Please contact Janna Mure at Business Finland for further details: janna.mure@businessfinland.fi.

Text: Counsellor Päivi Pihlajamäki, Team Finland coordinator in the UK