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Funders don't want the joins to show

"A SEAMLESS post-school system" is the vision of the funding councils for further and higher education as they launch a two-month consultation on their first corporate plan covering both sectors.

Roger McClure, the councils' chief executive, described it as an initial building block towards making a reality of lifelong learning.

The plan has four aims, none of which is unexpected and which include opening up colleges and universities to increasing numbers of students from disadvantaged groups, the policy which drew fire on Edinburgh University from right-wing interests.

The funding councils make it clear that their joint policy will be to pursue this project "without compromising the quality of courses and retention rates".

Much closer co-operation is envisaged between colleges and universities, stepping up existing arrangements for credit transfer. The funding of FE and HE will take increasing account of the extent to which institutions work to overcome "background and personal circumstances (which) give many people lower expectations and less encouragement to learn".

The report notes that the financial position of the FE sector is "weak" with 69 per cent of colleges regarded as in poor or unsatisfactory financial health. Eleven of 18 HE institutions posted an operating deficit in 2000-01, but this is expected to fall to five by 2004-05.

The other two aims are improvements in learning and skills and stimulating the creation and transfer of knowledge.

The consultation will feature four regional meetings in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Inverness.

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