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Colleges 'held back by funding complexity'

Colleges are bogged down by the "unduly complex" FE funding system and should play a greater role in deciding how it is managed, a new study argues.

An interim report from the Independent Commission on Colleges in their Communities calls for FE institutions to be given greater freedom from the "funding complexity" inherent to the structures currently in place, which, it argues, occupies too much college management time.

The commission - supported by the Association of Colleges (AoC), adult learning body Niace and the 157 Group, which represents large, influential colleges - believes colleges need more autonomy and influence in order to achieve their full potential.

AoC policy director Joy Mercer said: "This is the moment to seize the opportunities for colleges to be freed to do what they do best - work with their communities to deliver what they need to learn the skills for a changing employment landscape and active citizenship."

Colleges should have a "central leadership and co-ordinating role in the funding and regulation of this system," the report argues, which would lead to greater investment from businesses.

Colleges' financial accountability to the Government should be made simpler and "accountability to the local community will also be written into (their) governance", it adds.

This would help residents feel their local college is listening to them and responding to their needs.

The report also argues that the local demand for skills must be co- ordinated.

Mark Ravenhall, Niace's director of policy and impact, said: "Colleges are the institutional backbone of local learning eco-systems for adults, working closely with local authorities and independent providers.

"But this is an eco-system that's constantly evolving. With new funding arrangements, colleges need the space to operate beyond their current financial limitations."

Baroness Margaret Sharp of Guildford, who is chairing the commission, said: "I hope that this interim report will stimulate further discussion and debate which can feed into our final report due in November."

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