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Colleges backed to take over training from LECs

PARLIAMENTARIANS gave a vote of confidence to further education colleges this week, recommending that they should take over training programmes from the local enterprise companies (LECs).

An interim report on lifelong learning from the enterprise and lifelong learning committee of MSPs also took up a proposal from the Association of Scottish Colleges that there should be an entitlement to lifelong learning, equivalent to six years of full-time post-16 study, funded from the public purse.

But the association warned in its response that colleges must be adequately resourced if they were to have a more prominent role.

Alex Neil, SNP convener of the committee, described the proposals as more "radical and far-reaching" than those of the Robbins committee which reported on higher education in the 1960s. There would be implications for learners, employers and the economy.

The committee envisages it will take five to 10 years to make the changes. A final report will be produced in June, after the committee holds an innovative national convention in Edinburgh on April 15 to take soundings on its interim recommendations.

Learners would be able to use smart card technology to record credits used and learning achievements, the report states, similar to the lifelong learning "passport" recommended by the ASC.

But Tom Kelly, the association's chief officer, said: "Individuals should have a plan for their learning journey not just 'air miles' with no destination."

At a press conference to launch the report on Tuesday, Mr Neil said a publicly funded entitlement would ease pressures on those who felt they had to go on to college or university after leaving school.

The entitlement would make "volume training" programmes such as Skillseekers redundant and time spent on a course would not be wasted because those who dropped out could still earn credits.

"It's time to end the morass of schemes, programmes, agencies and funding mechanisms," Mr Neil said.

Marilyn Livingstone, a Labour member of the committee and a former Fife College lecturer, said the report was about "putting the learner at the centre: learning should drive the funding, not the other way round".

The committee also recommends that those in further, higher and vocational education are supported in the same way. It accepts that the present system is skewed towards those in full-time higher education at the expense of part-timers.

The report, which was unanimous, also accepts the case for a single funding system. At present the same courses can be funded differently in colleges and universities, and there can be as much as a pound;2,000 difference in support for modern apprenticeships in different local enterprise company areas.

The committee proposes that an initial step could be to develop a single system for all types of learning up to level 8 of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (higher national diploma, a Scottish Vocational Qualification at level 4 or the end of second year at university).

A business learning account, part-funded by the taxpayer, could be set up to encourage investment in learning by employers.

Annabel Goldie, Tory MSP and deputy convener of the committee, said the issue was the effective distribution of resources, not the total funds available.

Committee members also stressed the importance of guidance. Mr Neil said the National Audit Office estimated that poor guidance cost the UK more than pound;1billion because people opted for the wrong choices or careers. The creation of Careers Scotland as an all-age service and of Future Skills Scotland to provide up-to-date labour market information is seen as a move in the right direction.

A Lifelong Learning Advisory Council would be set up to ensure the strategy was working.

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