Dearing's demarcation on links condemned

Further education funding chiefs have attacked recommendations in the Government's review of higher education which call for strict limits to be imposed on the partnerships colleges can have with universities.

David Melville, chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council, said the moves would drive a wedge between universities and colleges rather than bring them closer together for the expansion of a mass lifelong learning system.

The offending clause in the 1,700-page report on the national inquiry into higher education, chaired by Sir Ron Dearing, was the one restricting franchises with universities for degree courses to one per college.

No such restriction would be imposed on the universities, he said. "That one side can have one partnership while the other can pick and choose who it wants is no basis for partnership."

Professor Melville had signalled his concerns in a speech to university leaders two weeks ago. But the strength of feeling within the FEFC council was much stronger than had been expected when it met to finalise it response to the report last week. "Sir Ron Dearing should not have created such a demarcation between the sectors in his recommendations," Professor Melville told The TES after the meeting. It would create further complications for colleges which wanted to have links with higher education which one university alone could not provide.

Sir Ron suggested the limit as part of a range of proposals to encourage sub-degree courses in the FE colleges while continuing in the short-term with a cap on growth in degrees. Under such plans, FE would become the area for sub-degree work such as higher national diplomas, while degrees would be left largely to the universities.

But the FEFC insisted at its meeting that this was to misunderstand the role and potential of FE. Only 3 per cent of higher education provision in further education was franchised work. Most was HNDs and HNCs. But there was a need for more FE degrees, both home-grown and franchised, the council insisted.

It welcomed most of the pro-posals in Sir Ron's report - removal of boundaries to progress, creating a common framework for qualifications and improving the quality of courses - but the restrictions on links were counterproductive. "It shows a failure to appreciate the distinctive form of HE in FE," Professor Melville said.

The council also called for legislation to ensure that "adequate and sufficient" higher education is provided in all regions of England, similar to the demands imposed on the FEFC to provide further education.

But, they concluded, responsibility for this should rest with regional committees represented by both sectors, not just the Higher Education Funding Council.

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