Insight event: Delivering excellent technical higher education

This Insight event brings together a range of speakers to discuss technical higher education.

The event highlights the importance of technical higher education as a driver of social mobility and local and national prosperity, the part that universities and colleges play in its delivery, and the role of the OfS and other regulators in this area.  

The OfS's chief executive, Susan Lapworth, is joined by higher education experts and senior members of the OfS to debate and discuss what excellence looks like in technical higher education.

The event is aimed at students, academics, policymakers and anyone with an interest in technical higher education. 

Event programme


Registration and refreshments 


Welcome:  John Blake, Director for Fair Access and Participation, OfS 


Opening address: Lord Wharton, Chair, OfS 


Ministerial address: Rt Hon Robert Halfon 


Keynote address: Susan Lapworth, Chief executive, OfS 


Panel discussion 1: What are the challenges and opportunities for the delivery of high quality technical higher education? 

Chair: Caleb Stevens, OfS board member and chair of the OfS student panel 

  • Edward Peck, Vice-chancellor and president, Nottingham Trent University 
  • Nikki Davis, CEO and Principal, Leeds College of Building 
  • Nathan Mould, Newcastle College University Centre 
  • Charlie Ball, Head of Labour Market Intelligence, Jisc  



Break and refreshments 


Welcome back and introduction to the second half: John Blake 


Panel discussion 2: How do we create an enabling environment to support technical higher education? 

Chair: John Blake, Director for Fair Access and Participation, OfS 

  • Jack Smith, Head of Pathways and Funding Policy, Participation and Equality, OfS 
  • Chiara Cavaglia, Research Economist, London School of Economics 
  • John Cope, Executive Director of Strategy, UCAS 
  • Dr Mandy Crawford-Lee, CEO, University Vocational Awards Council 
  • Lewis Cooper, Director, Independent Commission on the College of the Future 


Keynote address: Baroness Wolf of Dulwich  


Closing remarks: John Blake 

About the speakers

John Blake is the Director for Fair Access and Participation. He oversees the OfS's activity on equality of opportunity in higher education and has special responsibilities regarding our regulation of access and participation, helping to ensure that all students, especially the most disadvantaged, benefit from higher education. He is also responsible for student insight, information and engagement, the OfS’s policies on distributing funding to universities and colleges, and the OfS's work on lifelong learning. 

John took up his position at the OfS in January 2022. Prior to joining the OfS, he was a senior leader and researcher in the schools sector, leading on public affairs and curriculum research and design for Ark, policy and strategy for Now Teach and History initial teacher education for the Harris Federation. He has also worked as Head of Education and Social Reform for the think tank, Policy Exchange, was a founder governor of Oak National Academy, and served as an advisor to the government on reforms to initial teacher training and continuing professional development. 

Lord Wharton was made a life peer in September 2020 and has been chair of the OfS since April 2021. He was elected as an MP in 2010 and served as the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development from July 2016 to June 2017, and as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government, with responsibility for Local Growth and the Northern Powerhouse, from May 2015 until July 2016. Prior to that he worked as a solicitor. 

Robert Halfon was appointed Minister of State at the Department for Education on 26 October 2022. 

He was previously Minister of State (Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills) at the Department for Education from 17 July 2016 to 12 June 2017. 

Minister Halfon was elected Conservative MP for Harlow on 6 May 2010. 

Susan Lapworth was appointed chief executive of the OfS in September 2022 following a period as interim chief executive. She was previously the OfS’s Director of Regulation, responsible for developing and implementing the OfS’s regulatory framework. She has spent over 20 years working in senior roles in a range of higher education providers 

Caleb Stevens is a non-executive board member of the OfS with responsibility for student experience and chairs the student panel. Caleb is a postgraduate student at the University of Exeter studying an MBA apprenticeship degree. He was previously awarded an MA in Diplomacy and International Relations at Lancaster University and a BA (Hons) in Public Services at the University of Plymouth. 

Caleb is currently employed as the Head of Safeguarding for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, having spent over seven years in secondary education as a safeguarding lead. Appointed as the youngest magistrate for the Ministry of Justice in 2017, Caleb is now a member of the National Magistrate's Leadership Executive and sits on the board of trustees for the Youth Hostel Association (England and Wales) as a volunteer. 

Professor Edward Peck joined Nottingham Trent University as vice-chancellor in August 2014. He previously worked at the University of Birmingham following a career developing mental health services in the NHS. He is a Fellow of the UK Academy of Social Sciences. He was a member of the UK Government's Post-18 Fees and Funding Review panel, known as Augar, and remains engaged with the implementation of the Lifelong Learning Entitlement. In May 2022 he was appointed as the DfE’s initial Higher Education Student Support Champion and subsequently Chair of the Higher Education Mental Health Implementation Taskforce in June 2023.  

Nikki Davis is the principal and chief executive officer of Leeds College of Building. Nikki was appointed as principal in August 2022 after joining the college as vice principal in 2019.  

Previously, Nikki has worked across several West Yorkshire colleges, including leading the apprenticeship programme at York College as assistant principal. She was then promoted to vice principal for Technical and Professional programmes, where she led the successful bid for the Yorkshire and Humber Institute of Technology. 

Nathan Mould is a student at Newcastle College University Centre, currently studying a degree in mechanical manufacturing engineering. He is also an engineering technician at a sheet metal manufacturer in the North East. In this role he helps design for manufacture and provides computer aided design support to the production team.  

Nathan’s time spent at a university and as an apprentice on a vocational degree in a college has given him a broad experience with different forms of higher education. 

Charlie Ball is the labour market lead at the UK’s post-18 education digital service provider, Jisc. He is responsible for support and research for college and university careers services across the UK and has been an active researcher, collaborator, speaker and writer on the graduate labour market for 20 years. 

Charlie serves on groups advising the Social Mobility Commission, the Office of National Statistics, the National Council for University and Business, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, The Institute of Student Employers and the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services. He writes for and is quoted regularly by national media on graduate employment issues and recently authored the Universities UK report ‘Jobs for the Future’ 

He is also a Fellow of the National Institute of Careers Education and Counselling.  

Jack Smith has worked at the OfS since it was established in 2018. He has oversight of the OfS’s work relating to technical education and the Lifelong Loan Entitlement. He is also responsible for the OfS’s funding policy. He was previously responsible for the development and implementation of the OfS’s approach to regulating student outcomes. Prior to working for the OfS, Jack worked for the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Office for Fair Access and in various roles in children’s services policy for local authorities and national charities. 

Chiara Cavaglia is a research economist at the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, where she joined the Centre for Vocational Education Research in 2016. She works on projects on education and skills, particularly on vocational education and training. Chiara has written about returns to apprenticeships and about the impact of the skills devolution on apprenticeships. Chiara obtained her PhD in economics at the University of Essex in 2017. 

John Cope has worked in business and education for a decade and is currently executive director of strategy at UCAS. John also serves on the government’s Digital Skills Council and was appointed by the Education Secretary to the Board of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, the regulator of the skills system in England.  

Before joining UCAS, John was deputy director of Public First, a consultancy and polling company. He has also worked with business leaders across the UK as head of education and skills policy at the CBI, was a founder of the Education Policy Institute and served as an adviser to three former education ministers. Outside of work, John is on the board of the Activate Learning group of colleges and schools, an elected local councillor, and a Fellow of St George's House, Windsor Castle.

Dr Mandy Crawford-Lee has led national policy on the design and delivery of apprenticeships and has created pathways in higher level learning for apprentices beyond Level 3. She continues to advise on this topic and her professional field of interest is discursive shifts in apprenticeship reform in England and higher technical skills policy. 

Having worked with the University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) since 2012, Mandy became its director of policy and operations in 2017 and, in October 2021, its first female chief executive.

Lewis Cooper is Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns at the Association of Colleges. Prior to this, Lewis was director of the Independent Commission on the College of the Future, a UK-wide review that set out a vision for the role colleges can play for people, productivity and place, with a series of nation-specific and thematic reports. The Commission’s work included joint reports with the NHS Confederation and the Civic University Network, exploring relationships between colleges and the NHS and universities, respectively.  

Lewis worked previously for a decade at the National Union of Students, and at two Westminster-based think tanks. In 2021, Lewis chaired one of the inaugural independent Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) quality reviews, for Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board. 

Baroness Alison Wolf CBE is the Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management at King’s College London. She sits as a cross-bench peer (Baroness Wolf of Dulwich) in the UK House of Lords. She was the founding Chair of Governors of King’s College London Mathematics School, and remains a governor and vice-chair. 

Alison Wolf served in the No 10 Policy Unit, as part-time adviser on skills and workforce to the UK Prime Minister, from February 2020 to February 2023. Immediately prior to this, she was a panel member for the independent Review of Post-18 Education and Funding chaired by Sir Philip Augar.  In 2019 she delivered the annual King's lectures, on 'Universities. the economy and the state'. She is the author of the Wolf Report on vocational education (2011). 

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Recording: this event will be recorded and posted following the event.


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