Political parties should be wary of pitching the FE and HE sectors against one another in a battle for funding, a policy expert has warned.
Former government adviser Professor Andy Westwood, now vice-dean for social responsibility at the University of Manchester, predicted that the recommendations of the Augar review – which called for a fundamental rebalancing of post-16 funding – would be unlikely to figure prominently in the party manifestos.
However, he said that the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all recognised the importance of having a “diverse tertiary system”.
“I suspect none of the manifestos, when they come, are going to talk very much about Augar specifically, though all of them will want to talk about tertiary,” he told a panel on tertiary education at Wonkfest in London.
The Augar review was published in May, but an official government response has not yet been published and is not expected until early 2020.
Tertiary education: 'Crazy' complexity
Professor Westwood also spoke of the need to address the “crazy” complexity caused by quangos in HE and FE with overlapping remits, including the Office for Students, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Ofsted, which he said “contradict each other all of the time”.
“It’s one of the first things that other countries are astonished by, just the difference and complexity across all of those three,” he added.
Professor Westwood cautioned against the Augar recommendation of taking funding from HE to invest in FE. “Why don’t we just fund all this [FE] stuff at the same level as higher education? Don’t play one sector off against the other.”
However, he conceded that, given the reclassification of student debt by the Office for National Statistics, hopes for a major funding boost could be “more than a little optimistic”.
Speaking on the same panel, Yana Williams, principal of Hugh Baird College in Merseyside, gave a passionate defence of colleges offering higher education provision.
Colleges serve 'completely different' students
When she joined the college in 2012, it had 50 HE students; today it has more than 650 in a dedicated university building, which serves one of the most deprived parts of the country.
“Our students often have family or care responsibilities, have a job, have a house, and therefore the ability for them to travel short distances, to have… higher education provision in their communities, is very important.”
She said that HE in FE served a “completely different group of students” to universities, adding: “I don’t agree that we shouldn’t be meddling in the HE sector. There is a niche market for us there. It’s the adults, it’s the returners, the ones who need additional help in small classes, the ones who have a job or caring responsibility who cant travel an hour to another university.”