The modernisation of England's colleges looks set to change the face of further education
THE FACE of further education is expected to have changed almost beyond recognition within the next 10 years, as colleges press ahead with billions of pounds worth of building work.
The Learning and Skills Council announced this week that it is on course to have completely modernised England's colleges by about 2014. It has so far announced approval of pound;4.5 billion worth of projects, from improvements to older buildings to the creation of new campuses.
Sheffield College's new environmentally friendly structure - designed by a local architect - is one of the latest designs to win accolades, this time from the environmental lobby for its futuristic appearance and use of modern, energy-saving technology.
The replacement for Castle College - one of five sites which come under the Sheffield College banner - will include three giant wind turbines and solar panels. Together they are expected to meet a quarter of its energy requirements.
Jefferson Sheard, the Sheffield-based firm behind the project, has close links with further education, with a number of jobs in the pipeline. These include replacing the current buildings at South Cheshire College, having beaten Sir Norman Foster's firm to the pound;35 million contract.
Philip Head, the LSC's director of property services, predicts that by 2014 the entire FE estate will have been modernised, with many of its pre-1993 buildings having been replaced or refurbished.
Colleges have been improving and replacing their buildings since 1993, when they left local authority control. Since the LSC came to power in 2001, the pace has increased. The budget for building work has increased from pound;48m to pound;500m, with 624 projects having been approved by the quango.
But colleges must also contribute towards the costs, usually by borrowing money. Some EU cash is also available in deprived parts of the country.
It is expected that the LSC grant budget for buildings will have increased to pound;750m by 201011.
Mr Head said: "The work we have done shows that colleges which carry out major improvements of this kind have raised their performance in terms of recruitment, retention, achievement and quality.
Of the pound;4.5bn spent since 2001, pound;1.7bn has come from LSC grants.
While the schools building programme is larger, the FE estate renewal, relative to the number of buildings, is the largest anywhere in the public sector.
Made in Sheffield - the architect's challenge, page 5