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Accredit to the sector

Why shouldn't colleges accredit and award their own degrees? Some of the best mixed economy further and higher education colleges perform as well, if not better, than many universities. But the university accreditation requirements still operate with noblesse oblige. Government plans for the new two-year foundation degree may serve to reinforce this.

Research from Barnsley College shows that, despite its intake being skewed to lower socio-economic groups and late developers, success rates are on a par with university national averages.

It is not only in higher education that colleges are making strides. The Barnsley findings are a significant advance. Colleges are forging ahead with new-style action research - another area until recently considered the exclusive domain of universities.

The burgeoning FE research community is driven by two needs: to identify what communities and industry require and to ask how a college staff and resources may be best deployed. Some universities - Warwick, for example - go out of their way to help; others remain elitist.

This is not a takeover bid for universities, but the breaking of groud in a more inclusive learning agenda - as we report in detail, starting on page 8.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State, is rightly concerned about "academic drift" and a re-run of the polytechnics-versus-universities debate. That is why he wants to keep a rein on FE.

But the argument for colleges developing their own degrees and doing their own research is different in quality and quantity. There are no longer any "sectors" - not universities, colleges or, come to that, schools. There is a rapid coalescing and merging around grey areas: post-14, public-private, FE-HE and in adult learning. Companies offer degrees in-house, schools offer university foundation-year courses.

Within 10 years Tony Blair wants half the population to be graduates by the time they are 30; David Blunkett wants 700,000 new FE students in the next two years. Most of all, communities and employers increasingly seek a one-stop learning shop.

One conclusion should be that colleges must have the chance - under strict quality controls - to accredit their own degrees. And the door must be opened wider to the various pots of research money.

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