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Colleges are vital to improving UK's productivity, says leading economist

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Colleges are key to improving the UK’s productivity, one of the country’s leading economists has said.

In an exclusive interview with TES at the Association of Colleges' annual conference in Birmingham this afternoon, Vicky Pryce said colleges had a “hugely important” role to play in the economy.

Just days before the government's spending review, which is expected to herald significant funding cuts for the FE sector, Ms Pryce called for greater political attention to be focused on the FE sector.

“My worry has been for quite some time that there was an awful lot of focus on universities, and FE colleges were just not given the attention they should be," she said. “Even though we are talking as a country about improving vocational qualifications in particular, but also having the types of courses that are shorter, more adaptable to some people’s needs, and FE colleges are the places where these things can happen and be developed in the right way, there is a question mark over what funding might be available.”

She said if the UK is to improve its competitiveness against other countries, “that is the area where we have to concentrate”.

“We need more technicians, more engineers, but also the other skills, creative design, all the other stuff which FE colleges can also produce, and of course what you do need is the links with businesses.”

Ms Pryce added that an argument could be made for more of FE’s funding to come directly from businesses. She also raised concerns about whether the government's target of creating 3 million apprenticeships during the current Parliament could jeopardise the quality of the programme, but welcomed the move to increase work-based training.

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