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Give colleges freedom to behave like universities, report says

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Colleges should be given wider powers to allow them to operate like universities or even academy chains, a new report has claimed.

A document published today by the 157 Group of colleges, in partnership with law firm Eversheds, calls for colleges to be given greater flexibility and autonomy. It argues that “the ‘freedoms’ provided by the Education Act 2011 have to date failed to significantly increase flexibility in colleges’ operation”.

More “radical changes” may be needed if colleges are to have a “sustainable future”, given the funding cuts expected in the coming years, the document adds.

The existing powers of college corporations, which date back to 1992, “do not cater adequately for innovations that some colleges would like to implement”, the report says. These include “colleges that wish to operate in a similar manner to multi‑academy trusts, or with the degree of autonomy enjoyed by universities”.

“This will need to be addressed if the college sector is to be as dynamic and multifaceted as politicians claim they want it to be,” the report adds.

It also states that moves by colleges to become academies or even private companies during the past five years have been “resisted” by ministers.

The document calls for closer relationships between further education providers and employers “based on a shared vision and common goals”. Although the government is entitled to regulate on use of public funding and basic standards of quantity, “more emphasis should be placed on accountability to colleges’ local stakeholders, who were better placed than the government to ensure that colleges were meeting their needs,” it adds.

Sarah Robinson, chief executive of Stoke on Trent College and chair of the 157 Group, said: “Our analysis… indicates that while our skills system is undoubtedly more ‘free’ than it was five years ago, there is still a long way to go in matching the reality of policy with the rhetoric of politicians.

“We hope that this report will give all of us working in further education food for thought as we weigh up the options being presented to us, and also set out a working agenda for us to build upon with whoever forms the next government.”

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