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FE Focus Editor's

If a college spent 36p in every pound on administration, there would be an outcry. If it was then found to be providing only 65 per cent of its planned activity, it would be merged or closed. Indeed, colleges are in trouble if they drop below 95 per cent of what they promise.

Learndirect has some serious questions to answer.

Why is the number of students so low, when it has just spent more than pound;8million on advertising and pound;10m on marketing? This out of the annual budget of pound;200m, including pound;120m from the LSC.

Many people in further and adult education will, understandably, feel aggrieved given that the average spend on college advertising and marketing is just 3 per cent of the budget.

To add insult to injury, when the Learning and Skills Council claws back cash because of the shortfall in promised Learndirect courses, it is the colleges and private training providers whose budgets are raided. Having forked out cash on bureaucratic management demands they, not Learndirect, are assumed to have failed.

Learndirect was created in 2001 to promote friendly online learning centres that would entice adults back to education. There was considerable discontent in colleges.

Two questions prevailed: What could it achieve that colleges were not already doing? And wouldn't this just lead to more bureaucracy? Rather than whinge, however, they knuckled down to it and offered their services as learning centres. Many volunteered to be one of the 76 hubs set up to run learning centres.

There is evidence that adults are returning to learn - in the workplace, home and community centre - who were too intimidated by painful memories of school to set foot in a college. But there was also plenty of evidence that this was already happening before Learndirect thanks to colleges' own initiatives. It was called "outreach", "community" and "partnership" education. There is no knowing how this might have grown if the huge amounts of cash poured into Learndirect had been used to expand existing provision.

With "efficiency" emerging as the major theme in the Government's 2004 spending review - and little hope of new cash for colleges, how can ministers justify the continued high spending on Learndirect? Wouldn't it be better to give the cash from the LSC directly to the training centres?

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