Colleges should have a protected title similar to that granted to universities to help boost their standing and reputation, the further education commissioner has said.
Speaking at a landmark lecture event called Leading Change, Inspiring Learners, organised by London and South East Education Group, Richard Atkins, who is due to step down after over four years in post, said he was pleased the government had put colleges right at the heart of its Skills for Jobs White Paper.
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He said he saw colleges playing an even stronger role in the future.
"I have been through phases where people thought colleges would disappear," he said. "That has happened twice in my career. We are way beyond that now, which is fantastic. People are realising that colleges are a central part of public service."
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Mr Atkins added that colleges would be "very popular" in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, with many looking to train or retrain. "I hope they will the thriving," he said.
"One of the things I have always argued for is some sort of protected brand for colleges like universities are protected. The trouble with colleges is every time I go down Oxford Street, I see the signs everywhere and everywhere I go, every school is called a college and I kind of wish we had something distinctive, because the 170 colleges at the moment do an amazing job for their communities, and the more we can recognise that publicly, the better, I think
"That [distinctive brand] would make colleges stand out and make the country celebrate them as much as we culturally celebrate universities."
He added he wanted to see a bigger proportion of learners doing higher technical qualifications.
"I am less wedded to honours degrees," he said. "I think they are great for the right academic people. I would like to see colleges have a bigger role with level 4 and 5 and with adults returning. I like to see colleges that do a large variety. When they adopt the community leadership role, what they can do in the education and training space is really significant."
Sam Parrett, principal of London South East Colleges, said: "The one thing I was a bit disappointed with really in the White Paper, and also in the approach to post-Augar, is some degree of better delineation between the curriculum offer in the FE college as opposed to in the university or in the school. The boundaries around which we operate, there is a huge amount of competition, and some sort of branding or distinctive name would also help some better delineation particularly around careers advice and information so young people can make informed choices. I think it is still a very blurred picture out there."