A heretic with a vision of more mergers ahead

Ian Nash

Academic purists may cry "merger most foul", but Sir Michael Lickiss will hear none of it.

When he was appointed chairman of BTEC, it was inevitable that a marriage with London Examinations or a similar institution would happen, and the engagement was announced last month.

It does not spell the intended death of A-levels or herald the Holy Grail of a unified qualification - yet.

But since he is privy to the latest thoughts of Sir Ron Dearing, it takes little to work out which way the wind is blowing for the 16 to 19 curriculum.

Wherever Sir Michael steps, mergers loom like clouds over a rain god.

When he graduated from the London School of Economics and set himself up in accountancy, business mushroomed.

For 15 years, he recalls, "there was merger after merger until I was an executive partner of Thornton Baker," one of Britain's top 10 accountancy firms.

When he retired as senior partner in 1994, it was the world's seventh largest. In that time he became involved in the Business Education Council.

Lo and behold, it merged with the Technician Education Council and BTEC was born.

And there was his work with the Council for National Academic Awards, until the polytechnic and university sectors merged.

Education and training are his passion and frustration.

A former lecturer, he shares the vision of many for a unified post-14 framework.

The most important merger for Britain is on the horizon "and it's long overdue". But he adds a note of warning not to rush things.

His biggest frustration is with politicians who want things changed in three years when they should take five to seven, if not ten.

"The national curriculum was ruined in the implementation because of politicians and we must no allow it to happen again."

Sir Michael is a heretic among post-16 thinkers. He would put the brakes on the engine of change in higher education, leave HNDs and HNCs as they are until the merger at A-level is got right.

And far from ploughing more and more into the post-16 developments he calls for a massive investment in early years education - nursery and primary.

"Get that right and the rest will follow," he insists.

He is a heretic too in thinking that the big merger needed is not between university and college sectors but those of colleges and schools.

That is what the BTECLondon Examinations merger is all about - at least as far as the curriculum is concerned - and why all the vocational exam boards will go the way of BTEC. Schools spell big business for BTEC.

"At present, our biggest customer is FE followed by universities," he said.

"In future it will be FE followed by schools. But the changes we want will come in two years not 10."

His political instincts and a lifetime of business experience tell him that.

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