He told the conference of the Association of Colleges in Harrogate that there were already clear warnings in the sector. The announcement earlier this year of more funds for 1999-2000 was "incredibly welcome but it would be misleading to imply that this is sufficient for a sector systematically bled for five years thus causing the shocking statistic that half of all colleges are 'operating at a loss'." He said that 20 per cent of all colleges had a rating in the lowest financial health section.
"Is it really a surprise that 32 per cent of colleges have appointed a new principal since September 1996? Is this level of turnover not dangerous and a clear warning that there are serious difficulties." He hoped the government would address the fundamental funding problems FE faced.
Attention had to be paid to the problems of students who failed to achieve or did not remain on their courses. Research had shown that financial pressures, domestic difficulties, and also dissatisfaction with courses, were some of the reasons. He said there needed to be an open debate on this issue. "We need to acknowledge partial achievement."
Some students would succeed, but at their own pace. "We are asked to be flexible and then told if a student has not passed in a pre-determined timescale they have 'failed'. Have they also 'failed' if they obtain a job and leave their studies? Of course not but this needs to be recognised as unwarranted castigation and could drive colleges into only accepting better qualified students. It will not do so because of the deep commitment of those in colleges."
He called for a detailed re-examination of the way learning was defined. "One day someone must acknowledge the craziness we continue to play by seeking to separate out the inseparable who can tell the real differences between vocational education and non-vocational within a framework of Lifelong Learning."