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Editor's Comment

The latest figures on student numbers in further education have confirmed what many casual observers on college campuses have long suspected. Most of the expansion is accounted for by an influx of female students, according to the latest report to come out of Success for All (see FEFocus front page).

It is perhaps the least controversial fact contained in the report, but of enormous historical significance.

It spells out the fact that the female majority already in place among university undergraduates is also firmly entrenched in further education college, where 60 per cent of students are female. There will be those who find reason to be concerned by such figures. Is the education system failing to engage the interest of men? People may worry that not enough women are doing the kind of courses traditionally seen as male-orientated.

These concerns will continue to feed the imagination of those looking for evidence that futher education is failing to ensure sexual equality.

Of course, in reality, the aspirations of people - including their preferences about whether to study and which subject to choose - are not controlled by educationalists but merely influenced. Quite right too.

While schools are repeatedly blamed for the poor discipline which has its roots in the failures of parents, so colleges will be blamed for the inequalities which have their roots in wider society.

It might be a little premature to assume that women are taking over the world -or even the country. But if the effort they are putting into their education, and the supremacy they have achieved over men in examination grades, is anything to go by, it could be that we will be living in a very different society in 20 years' time.

By then, no doubt, the exclusion of men will become a matter of great concern, the subject of endless conferences and workshops and a source of funding for further research.

In the meantime, we need to invest our money in those who are most willing to learn, for the benefit of the society we all live in.

FE is not just about providing opportunities to students, important though that it is. It is also about helping the most hard working and talented members of our society to win the reward of recognition and equipping them to contribute their energy to the economy.

Colleges can be proud to have helped such people on their way. Men have the same opportunity, should they choose to accept.

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