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College funding reform urged;FE Focus

One of the Government's leading economists has drawn up proposals for a two-year programme to restructure college funding.

David Robertson's far-reaching scheme, unveiled in a Further Education Development Agency discussion paper, would mean taking the entire controversial funding regime back to the drawing board.

Mr Robertson, professor of public policy education at Liverpool John Moores University, says FE is currently a "poorly researched" sector with "no significant literature on questions of funding and finance".

The Further Education Funding Council's review of funding and the change of government have created a climate where new research could make a contribution to policy-making, he says.

Alongside a thorough assessment of the strengths and limitations of current funding methods, and a comparison with "credit-based funding", the paper says a "centre of excellence" should be set up to look at international comparisons.

He believes the FE sector in the UK has suffered from an image problem and compared to similar institutions in other countries, is poorly served by the academic research community.

"FE colleges have been required to work to a somewhat ambivalent mission - sandwiched between the higher-reputation sixth forms and universities. This has led to an enduring problem of FE in the UK: it has lacked status, voice and authority.

"If one draws a comparison with the rich and growing literature on the community college system in the United States, for example, the FE sector has been largely under-explored by the UK research community. Consequently the sector enjoys neither the public visibility it deserves, nor the security of well-informed policy-making."

Large-scale research should be ruled out in favour of smaller, targeted projects, the report says, which could draw on readily-available government and FEFC data and include seminars, discussion papers and role-playing scenarios.

He says such exercises would draw in a broader range of people and enable individuals to pool their expertise.

Mr Robertson recommends setting up a steering group to oversee and review research strategies. He calls for the co-operation of national agencies, individual colleges and academic researchers.

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