Investment in colleges pays off

Study shows public investment produces billions in returns through increased earning capacity and economic performance

Steve Hook

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Taxpayers concerned about Gordon Brown's bid to spend his way out of debt can rest assured when it comes to further education.

Latest research suggests colleges are returning public investment with interest to the tune of billions of pounds a year through increased economic performance.

A study by the Association of Colleges (AoC) shows that people who have studied in FE over the past 15 years contributed Pounds 28 billion to the economy in 2006-07 alone.

This figure is released as part of Colleges Week, which ends this weekend. It shows a huge mark-up for the taxpayer when compared with the Pounds 4.7bn that will be spent on FE by the Government this year.

The contribution to the economy is based on an American study of the socio-economic impact of 80 English colleges.

David Collins, president of the AoC, said: "This research shows clearly that England's FE colleges are a sound investment from multiple perspectives.

"Colleges enrich the lives of learners and increase their lifetime incomes, and they benefit taxpayers by generating increased tax revenues from an enlarged economy and reduced demand for taxpayer-supported social services."

The report also says the public sees a return of Pounds 1.70 year-on-year for each Pounds 1 spent on colleges as a result of the increased earning capacity and productivity of former students and trainees who pass through the FE system.

John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, said: "Colleges are not just a foundation of the country's economy, but also an investment in the nation's future.

"The Government will invest Pounds 4.7bn in further education and training this year, and it's vital that we understand not just the role they play in unlocking an individual's talent, but also how pivotal they are in building strong communities - economically and socially."

The survey of colleges' contribution to the gross domestic product follows a similar exercise carried out in colleges in the United States that has increased their capacity to lobby politicians for resources by proving the vital role they play in the country's economy.

The first UK college to publish individual economic impact figures as a result of this kind of research was Warwickshire, which estimated that it provides Pounds 7 of public value for every Pounds 1 spent.

The research by the AoC, based on data from individual English colleges, also suggests there is a better return on sacrificing short-term earnings to study a part- time college course than can be obtained by investing in an ISA.

Further research, also commissioned by the AoC as part of Colleges Week, suggests that more than 8 million adults aim to seek retraining in the next year as a result of the economic downturn.

Despite the uncertainty caused in the wake of the "credit crunch", the AoC says 3.2 million people intend to change career over the next year.

An AoC spokesman said: "Colleges Week highlights the key role colleges can play to help these people access the education and training they need to get through tougher economic times, with government investment in adult skills and training set to rise to Pounds 5.3bn by 2010-11 to support them."

Leading article, page 4.

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Steve Hook

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