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Investing in colleges is money well spent

More pay for all staff, minimising financial barriers to education, and greater racial equality are just a few of the items on the election wish list of three key players in FE.

THE Association of Colleges believes there is an unanswerable case for: Improved baseline funding.

* the new government must increase baseline funding for colleges to overcome the decline in real unit costs of the last few years;

* in doing so, it should honour its commitment to bring colleges up to a level playing field with other post-16 education providers;

* within baseline funding, the new government should substantially increase the funds available for quality improvement, staff development and capital and IT investment;

* colleges should be able to use their funding flexibly, according to the needs of their communities and the many employers they serve.

Substantial improvements in the pay of all staff * a healthy financial environment for the nation's colleges will enable them to fund reasonable annual pay settlements for all their staff.

New financial support for learners * all eligible 16 to 18-year-olds should have access to an education maintenance allowance;

* grants or income-contingent loans should be made available to all adult larners through individual learning accounts or a similar mechanism, to support an entitlement to free study up to their first level 3 qualification.

The continued upgrading of college teaching as a profession * the present teaching pay initiative should be sustained and extended;

* government should support a new teaching council for the sector.

Reform of learning programmes * Many learners will be best served with a radical change towards fundable learning programmes and qualifications in "bite-sized" pieces;

* The drive towards "simplified" high-quality vocational education must carry the full support of the sector and of business New commitments from and collaboration with employers * the new government should clarify the resources which employers will put towards the vocational education and training their businesses require;

* the relationship between the college sector and the employment community must be recognised by government as one of partnership, not domination.

In the last few years, the college sector has shown just how versatile it can be in adjusting to new pressures to perform, and in professionalising its managerial culture. Extra spending on colleges can now be safely assumed to be money well spent.

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