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'Let us have an open and equal dialogue'

Steven Broomhead, its president-elect, explains the thinking behind the document An Agenda for life.

The Association for College Management manifesto An Agenda for Life makes a major contribution to creating a more appreciative and supportive framework for the 480 colleges in the UK where ACM has members.

The manifesto seeks to guide the well- informed, well-intentioned and experienced ministers into taking some urgent decisions.

We are sensitive to the pressures on public spending. But if the current plans remain unchanged it will mean that by the millennium the sector will have delivered a 33 per cent increase in student numbers and absorbed cost increases of at least 20 per cent in return for a budgetary increase in cash terms of 10 per cent since incorporation in 1993.

The Government, committed to raising the proportion of national income spent on education, should surely recognise our contribution. We have delivered, and this has been quantified, properly audited, published. Above all, ours is a service that is valued by our local communities.

If there is no additional funding available in the short term, we would ask that the quantified achievements of the college sector be compared to those of the training and enterprise council sector.

Our performance is there for the world to analyse in published reports. In the rather closed world of the TECs, performance and targets are the buzzwords but the detailed evidence is very difficult to obtain.

We look to the Government to make one major practical decision in the next few months.

In return for meeting the ambitious targets, for our demonstrated versatility, for our flexibility and for enrolling record numbers of students, a modest contribution should be made for the 199798 financial year in order to fund next year's national pay settlements.

This would not cost a great deal but would clearly show the Government's commitment to colleges, would enhance morale and provide some stability in an increasingly uncertain world.

The Kennedy Committee and the forthcoming White Paper on lifetime learning are likely to stall badly unless an amount of transitional or additional funding is made available in 199798 and 199899 to mitigate the withdrawal of funding for growth.

A new growth mechanism for the sector needs to be developed and, while we do not support the ending of efficiency gains, they must be set at a level that maintains growth, protects quality and above all is attainable.

The Government's care and concern for standards will not be met unless these matters are addressed. We look forward to the stabilisation of funding at current levels and also to working with the Government in its aim to converge funding of all post-16 sectors.

We know that it is not all about resources. Stopgo policy developments must cease.

We advocate a national debate between the key partners on the national objectives of post-16 education and training. We do not need a national inquiry into our sector but rather open dialogue between parties within the Government's supportive value system on our national and regional aims and purposes.

This is what we mean at national level by partnership. It is unwise to ignore the hidden agendas between the fund-holders (the Government) and the recipients ( the Further Education Funding Council and the TECs) with colleges caught in the middle. It is also naive to talk of partnership when there are clearly so many hidden games of financial tug-of-war going on.

The Government should bring all of this into the open by allowing an open and equal dialogue on a national strategy for post-16 education and training.

While we look forward to working in partnership with others to meet the challenges of the Dearing review of higher education, we recognise that unless the FE agenda and campaign is positioned quickly with Government it will be swamped by the very powerful HE lobby within weeks. We agree that the nettle of adequate student financial support should be grasped. Student support should be equitable.

There is a need for orderly, sensible, national collective bargaining on pay issues and core matters on the contracts of employment. We will continue to support national collective bargaining via the Association of Colleges. A period of stability based upon true partnership and above all trust is needed. The national initiatives to further improve the managerial competence of all college staff is welcomed.

The issues are two-fold. First, we need to clarify the national role of FE and the Government must provide tangible evidence of its commitment to growth and wider participation. Second, we need a coherent partnership and vision to determine how adequate resource is best applied.

We look forward to working with our partners to construct this new vision. Who wants to be first to work alongside us?

Steven Broomhead is president-elect of the Association for College Management.

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