The government is “very open” to the idea of more new FE colleges in England after the recent announcement of the first new college in twenty years, according to skills minister Matthew Hancock.
Speaking to TES about plans for the new institution to train engineers for the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project, Mr Hancock (pictured) said that he was a “huge supporter” of new entrants to the FE sector.
“Since incorporation, there have been dozens and dozens of college mergers,” he said. “A vibrant sector in any set of organisations involves not only dynamic incumbents but new entrants.
“I have no doubt that massive new construction projects will mean there’s a huge amount more demand on the FE system. That doesn’t preclude new institutions in some cases.”
Mr Hancock said that shortages in skills such as engineering could lead the demand for new colleges.
“We are very open to the suggestion of new colleges in the same way that we are open to expansion of existing institutions,” he said. “If there are specific proposals or more generally, we are all ears.”
Martin Doel, chief executive of the Assocation of Colleges, welcomed the minister’s comments. “I am grateful and pleased he has recognised the value and benefits of the autonomous college model,” he said.
“Up until now we have seen plenty of college mergers. Maybe there’s now room for a growing number of institutions. Maybe this is an idea whose time has come.”
Mr Hancock said that the FE sector should be “proud of the fact” that the controversial HS2 project will include a new college. “I hope it’s very high quality and brings an extra verve to the system,” he said.
The government is now working on where the new college will be built, but has confirmed it will be in “proximity” to the proposed HS2 line. It is expected to be up and running by 2017, when construction of HS2 is due to start. Costs have not yet been revealed.
It will offer technical training, including rail engineering, environmental skills and construction. Up to 2,000 new apprentices could be created during the lifetime of construction.