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Graham Fowler eavesdrops on a discussion between an Education Minister and his personal secretary

Secretary: Have you seen that report from the Institute for Public Policy Research suggesting students should have greater influence in shaping college provision?

Minister: They can't say that!

Secretary: Why ever not, Minister?

Minister: IPPR are supposed to be on our side.

Secretary: Be that as it may, Minister, government policy emphasises the demand side of provision. Does it really matter if employers or students make the demands? Anyway, you do wish to give students more control, for instance, by encouraging student evaluation.

Minister: That's a different matter. Evaluation isn't really about giving students any influence.

Secretary: But that is not what the policy says, Minister.

Minister: Of course it doesn't. We don't want everyone to know of our partnership with employers whereby we pay for all early training in the hope that employers will pay later.

Secretary: And what is the role of employers in this, errm, partnership?

Minister: They allow us access to their employees. We put them through some kind of testing, so that we can claim the number of qualified staff is increasing.

Secretary: But they aren't more qualified.

Minister: Yes they are; they have a piece of paper to prove it. It also enables us to compare ourselves more favourably with international competitors. And, as important, we retain control over what happens in colleges.

Secretary: I thought the demand-led process involved giving control to employers.

Minister: Well it certainly involves taking it away from colleges.

Secretary: But you don't want to give it to students?

Minister: No.

Secretary: Or employers?

Minister: No. It is an important area. The Government needs to retain its influence.

Secretary: At last I begin to understand what is meant by empowerment, Minister.

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