Funding is just one reason why hospitality education in the UK is at its lowest ebb, claim two leading professors. In a recent meeting with The Caterer, as part of our Think Again campaign, David Foskett and Peter Jones outlined the problems and their proposed solutions. Rosalind Mullen listened in
The decrease in funding for further education colleges, educational strategies that are not fit for industry purpose, a lack of recognition of hospitality as a rewarding career and the difficulty of attracting switched-on teachers with industry experience are just a few of the issues feeding the skills shortage, say professors David Foskett and Peter Jones.
Internationally, the UK is falling behind in providing applied, practical learning. The only institution that comes close, they reckon, is the Edge Hotel School, the UK's first school in a commercial hotel, Wivenhoe House. And they are urging the industry to not only support the school, but pledge resources to replicate the model across the country through Hotel Future, an education and training initiative to establish hotels with education and training at the core of the commercial activity.
They are not alone in this thinking. Chef Cyrus Todiwala has written an open letter, demanding: "The industry needs to get off its backside and get involved head on and tackle Britain's chef and wider hospitality and catering HR problems for the future."
Foskett and Jones couldn't have put it more succinctly. With decades of experience in the industry and in education, the pair despair that the government is willing or able to help.
"We need to think about this differently," urges Jones. "Traditionally, employers have looked to education and colleges to provide their workforce. We are saying it won't happen in the future. Talent is not being grown here. The way employees have got round the skills shortage has been by recruiting from the rest of Europe, where the education system is different."
Foskett adds: "A radical approach may be forced on employers by Brexit, as possible border controls may make employing from Europe more difficult."
The Caterer met them at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, where they outlined the issues and what they believe is the only solution to the skills shortage. Here are some of their main points.
Why are hospitality courses failing to attract students?
Professor David Foskett (DF) There is no parity of esteem regarding hospitality in the UK.
A-levels are seen as a rite of passage and many young people feel that if they don't get them and go to university, they have failed. This is a massive disservice to young people.
Our system of education is narrow. There are different types of intelligence, such as emotional intelligence, but you are almost ignored if you are not intellectual.
This approach means we are not helping young people to see the opportunities in hospitality.
Teachers are often not well informed. The government's Post-16 Skills Plan makes no mention of hospitality in its section on the skills pressures on selected areas of the economy.
But hospitality contributes £143b to GDP and, with 4.6 million jobs, it is the fourth largest employer. Some head teachers I meet have no idea about this. They don't realise that a general manager in a five-star hotel can earn a six-figure sum.
Professor Peter Jones (PJ) There is no careers service in schools. Teachers have responsibility for giving careers advice, but the only career they know is teaching. Another part of the problem is that people love restaurants, but don't want their kids to work there. It comes back to a ‘below stairs' image.
DF And academic snobbery. I call it ‘the British disease of academic education'. Some college principals don't even appreciate their own hospitality departments. For instance, they don't see sugar crafting or chocolate work as an art. If students were creating in concrete or glass, it would be called art.
PJ The industry needs to do much more to challenge perceptions.
DF In the US, there is a culinary medicine programme
that teaches trainee doctors about nutrition and how to cook, because there is evidence that the right diet can prevent cancer and reduce hypertension and obesity and so on. This could raise the status of what we do in hospitality. Trainee doctors here could have a module with a further education [FE] college.
You admire the educationalist Ken Robinson, who has argued for an end to outmoded industrial educational systems and proposes an organic approach. Can you explain how this approach might help hospitality?
In one failing US school, the students wanted to concentrate on football, so he said, "OK, learn football, but the deal is you also need to do some English and maths". And, of course, the levels in those subjects went up. Likewise, we need to make curriculums relevant and engaged. PJ Students need to learn in a variety of ways - with practical application. There is a lot of intellectual snobbery. If you are a doctor, the time spent in practical work in wards is seen as acceptable. But in hospitality, practical learning is not given enough resources.
Can you explain the funding issues affecting FE colleges?
PJ Since 2002, higher education has had the opportunity for growth, benefiting from a significant rise in income since the introduction of student fees supported by student loans. There is no cap on the number of students who can attend. Plus, additional funding comes from research grants.
FE colleges, however, have seen a reduction in the funding allocation per student per course, as well as increased competition from sixth-form colleges and schools. Schools want to retain students post-16 to be able to draw down the funding associated with that student.
FE colleges are also, in effect, "capped" as to the number of students they can recruit on a course through the funding mechanism.
There are anecdotal reports that schools are not keen for chefs or managers to
visit because they are worried it will ncourage young people to leave and take
apprenticeships, thus depriving them of the funding.
How does this affect FE colleges?
PJ The schools want to keep pupils until they are 18 because they are chasing funding. So they have an incentive to encourage students who may be borderline at GCSE to stay on for A-levels. But that is not necessarily right for the individual.
Pupils may be being set up to fail A-levels, yet they may have gained from a vocational course or apprenticeship.
You have even got some schools offering their own FE courses to retain the funding.
A few years ago, the then minister for skills, Kim Howells, visited the University of West London. He understood the situation. He commented that he had visited schools next to beautifully equipped FE colleges set up for technical and vocational education. But although the schools weren't as well equipped, they held on to the pupils because of the way the funding works. So FE colleges are seeing a reduction in students. And, ultimately, there could be fewer colleges with the expertise to deliver hospitality courses. The danger is that through Area Reviews, colleges are being encouraged to merge to help reduce costs and improve their "efficiency and effectiveness".
When two colleges merge, students in one catchment will have to travel considerable distances to access hospitality provision. They don't get maintenance grants or funding for travel, and previous experience suggests they probably won't travel out of their area.
Give us some examples of why you claim hospitality courses in the rest of the world have more recognition than those in the UK
PJ Look at the way Europe does it. Hotel schools in France and Austria are in many cases sponsored by chambers of commerce, not the education system. They see that tourism is vital to the area, so they invest in it.
Salzburg Chamber of Commerce, for instance, has financed four hotel schools, a five-star hotel and a concert hall.
DF I am a visiting professor in Hong Kong at the Vocational Training Council of further and higher education, which has seen government investment of â¬75m [£68m]. A college opening in 2018 will offer hospitality training with a 30-bedroom hotel, a 120-seat Chinese restaurant and a 100-seat European restaurant.
In China, if you study hospitality, you get half your fees paid. That is because they know manufacturing will move to Bangladesh, India and Indonesia, and they see tourism and hospitality as a massive growth area.
In Italy, I am setting up courses for post-18-year-olds in hospitality at a new University of Hospitality and Tourism in Sicily. Again, the authorities put money into hospitality schools because they realise tourism is so important to the economy.
Other governments have got real vision; they know manufacturing won't last, so they are supporting their service industries. You come back here and wonder what we are doing. We have to look where the jobs are - and the jobs are in hospitality.
How could UK hospitality courses be improved?
DF We need to attract more high-quality lecturers who are high-calibre practitioners, but this is difficult, particularly in London, because they can earn more in industry.
PJ We need a new approach to improve engagement that makes learning better. When students are more engaged, it creates a working ethos from the word go. We have the Edge Hotel School, where students get experience across the board, right down to maintenance.
The student sees how it all integrates. They need to understand how a decision on stores impacts the restaurant. But you don't get that interconnect to reflect the reality of the workplace on most courses in the UK.
Likewise, how can you expect young people to know how to provide good service unless you give them that experience themselves?
DF Hospitality used to get an uplift in funding because of the necessity of running a kitchen and a restaurant for practical work. But no longer. A lot of higher education establishments have had to get rid of kitchens. So students are not getting the practical experience and are not as employable as in the past.
And so you believe the industry needs to create its own educational institutions?
DF Realistically, help from the UK government won't happen. The industry has got to do it.
Industry can help itself by supporting the Edge Hotel School's Wivenhoe House hotel. They will reap the benefits, too. Exclusive Hotels' managing director Danny Pecorelli sponsors a suite in the hotel and he believes he benefits from gaining well-trained workers, so it is not one-way.
PJ Industry can also support the Hotel Future Foundation, which David and I and others are involved with. This is an education and training initiative to establish a number of hotels where education and training is at the core of the commercial activity.
These hotels will be a variant on the Edge Hotel School model, based on apprenticeships rather than higher education. They will also provide additional education and training opportunities for junior staff, through supervisory to executive levels. Work is already under way with Oldham Borough Council and others. The problem is that the local authorities are keen, but they have constraints. It needs investment and vision, so we are now looking at getting funding elsewhere to purchase hotels. Ideally, we need six - one in each major conurbation.
Industry involvement is essential to secure the skills for the future. By contributing to and becoming involved in both the Edge Hotel School and Hotel Future, the industry has the opportunity to improve skills and raise awareness of hospitality as a professional, rewarding career.
Professor David Foskett
•Former dean and head of the London School of Hospitality and Tourism at the
University of West London.
•Member of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, the Craft Guild of Chefs and a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality.
•In 2016, he was appointed chair of the International Olympiad and International council in India. He is a member of the management committee of the Craft Guild of Chefs, the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and the Council of the Institute of Hospitality. A member of the education board at the AT-Sunrice Global Chef Academy and the Hotel Future board. On the advisory board of Bromley College and the City and Guilds of London Institute, and on the national council of the Institute of Hospitality.
•Consultant on hospitality services, hospitality education and training and restaurant management. A recognised external examiner in a number of universities and colleges, and a visiting professor in Hong Kong and New Buckinghamshire universities.
Professor Peter Jones
•Director of Wentworth Jones, an international hospitality consultancy
and management company, which owns and operates a ski company in
Meribel, France (www.aktivexperience.com).
•Retired as commander of the southern region of the Army Catering Service of the British Army of the Rhine.
•Academic career includes: head of schools in Bournemouth and Thames Valley universities and chief executive/principal of the Blue Mountains Hotel
Schools in Australia.
•Involved in the redevelopment of eHotelier, the online web portal for
hotels and hospitality.
•Directorships include: Hotel Future Foundation, Hotel Future (Manchester),
Hospitality Professionals Association (HOSPA), Edge Hotel School, Wivenhoe
House Hotel, Learning from Experience Trust and the International
Hotel Schools Directors Association (EUHOFA).
•Visiting professor at the University of Derby and University of West London.
•Recent projects include the curriculum and operational planning for a new hotel school in Bangladesh; analysis of the potential hotel schools market
for an acquisition and development strategy for a US education group; and
feasibility studies on the viability for a new hotel school in the UK and
•Project director at the Edge Hotel School from 2009-2012.