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The glitz and the glamour of a happening sector;FE Focus;Comment;Opinion

I NEVER thought I'd say it but the further education sector is no longer hidden under a bushel. We are everywhere - taking part, proving our worth, leading the way. It's called parity of esteem.

For example, new Labour's competitiveness White Paper identifies FE as the key agent in meeting the nation's business needs for a skilled labour force with intermediate qualifications. Recognising the central value of knowledge, skills and creativity - in short FE - we are seen as central to the country's economic strength.

Then there is the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council paper based on Gillian Raab's excellent study on participation in higher education in Scotland. The research clearly shows that colleges are much more successful than universities in attracting students from areas of poverty and disadvantage. Surely the two sectors working more closely together can only enhance the social impact of HE on all our communities.

The icing on the cake, however, is Linda McTavish's appointment to lead the newly constituted quango Community Learning Scotland. Her enthusiasm and visionary qualities will be fundamental to ensuring that FE, the community education service and other partners drive community-based learning forwards collaboratively based on matching the professional capabilities of educators with the expressed demand of Scotland's learners.

So FE is part of the shebang. The sexy all-inclusive service "making a difference" in terms of economic competitiveness, attacking poverty and widening access. Hallelujah to the recognition. I think we've earned it.

But we've been sexy and all-inclusive for years. Try this question: what do Scotland's best young band, the young parliamentarian of the year, the young entrepreneur of the year, the most promising television acting performer of the year and the Scottish author of the decade have in common?

The answer is that they are all "children" of FE.

Who are they? First, there are Belle and Sebastian, a collective of beat wizards from Glasgow and Ayrshire who cut their first record (yes it was vinyl), "Tigermilk", while studying music production at Stow College. Their recent album The Boy with the Arab Strap has made every music guru's "best record list" for the year. It's a pop classic.

Second, there is Jim Murphy, the energetic young MP for Eastwood and a key new Labour spokesman on youth issues and the New Deal who was a student at Cardonald College in the early eighties. There is, I believe, no limit to his political potential.

Then there is Richard Emanuel, managing director of DX Communications, one of Scotland's fastest growing companies, now operating on a multinational basis, who was a general education student at Langside College before going into business. Richard, now in his early thirties, is surely due to retire soon.

Fourth, there is Joe McFadden, formerly star of Take the High Road, whose performance in the BBC's Crow Road was acclaimed throughout the acting world. He began his career as a theatre arts student at Langside in 1992. A future Oscar winner, no doubt.

And finally, there is the charming Jeff Torrington, a former Linwood car worker who was in my Reid Kerr sociology class in 1984 and went on to win the Whitbread prize for the Scottish novel of the decade for Swing Hammer Swing!

All children of FE, making a difference to the worlds of the arts, politics and business and making a difference to Scotland. But as the song says, things can only get better. The Prime Minister on a recent visit to John Wheatley College enrolled as a flexible learning student. That's what I call impact. I only wonder if he will feature in principal Ian Graham's SUM count next year.

Graeme Hyslop is principal designate of Langside College, Glasgow, and a member of the Educational Institute of Scotland. He writes in a personal capacity.

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