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Essential reading in topsy-turvey world

A Guide to further education in England and Wales, by Leonard Cantor, Iolo Roberts and Beryl Pratley, Cassell. Pounds 14.99

There aren't many books on further education and the various editions of Cantor and Roberts' previous guide to the sector were standard works at a time when FE grew like Topsy.

With the addition of Beryl Pratley, Leonard Cantor and Iolo Roberts have now produced an entirely new book.

The book is essential reading for anyone seeking to get to grips with the new system.

It gives a comprehensive outline of administration and funding, examines the new vocational curriculum, describes the variety of students now in FE and details the structures which incorporated colleges have adopted.

Education for FE teaching and research on FE is also covered - the last briefly since there isn't much, though recently academics have been quick to claim funds for research on a sector they previously ignored. FE in Wales, with its national credit accumulation and transfer scheme, is also included.

Scotland is of course another country and as such it deserves a book on its own as its more unified curriculum holds together against the insanities of individual competitiveness and the peculiarly English snobbery of recurrent "academic drift" - the move to more academic studies, based on the assumption that vocational routes are inferior.

Due to the strength of these corrosive factors south of the border, the future of further education in England and Wales is in doubt more than ever.

Under the aegis of an education department which has taken over employment on its own terms, FE is likely to fall victim to a new academic thrust towards the traditional values of elite higher education.

Indeed, Professor Tony Henry, maverick principal of East Birmingham College, sees the merger of his college with the University of Central England as the first of many which will, he predicts, create about 200 giant further and higher education institutions by the year 2000.

This will leave an ivy league of research-centred universities at the top of the tree.

Such a possible future justifies Cantor, Roberts and Pratley's concluding reservations about the arrival of "the virtual college" and the end of FE.

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