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Lib Dems: Colleges would expand under us

Party conference to call for `increased role' for FE to innovate and broaden 14 to 19-year-olds' horizons

Party conference to call for `increased role' for FE to innovate and broaden 14 to 19-year-olds' horizons

Original paper headline: Colleges would expand under us, claim Liberal Democrats

Colleges would expand under a raft of further education-friendly policies and proposals up for discussion at the Liberal Democrat party conference, which starts in Bournemouth tomorrow.

The Liberal Democrats want an increased role for colleges across the educational spectrum - from providing more opportunities to students aged 14-19 to delivering more higher education.

Stephen Williams, the party's spokesman on innovation, universities and skills, said that while the role of colleges was not always fully appreciated by policy makers. they had a key role to play in delivering trained employees and helping to cut unemployment.

"There should not be the assumption that school should be 11 to 18," he said. "People should have a choice at 14 to make a break from the school system and I see an increased role for colleges.

"And while I am not saying that the primary role of colleges is to facilitate part-time higher education or foundation degrees, there is scope for more collaboration on those fronts."

Mr Williams' comments followed a policy paper announced by party leader Nick Clegg last week that called for more to be done to combat youth unemployment, including 50,000 more college foundation degree places, more apprenticeships and an internship scheme paying a pound;55 weekly training allowance.

The paper, "A Lifeboat for the Lost Generation", said that English colleges should be funded directly by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) rather than have their funding channeled through university partners.

The cost of the latest Liberal Democrat policies - which also include an expansion of higher education places, more support for adult learning and more back-to-work programmes - is put at about pound;1.1 billion. The party said this could be paid for by scrapping the Government's temporary cut in VAT and by shifting money from the Train to Gain scheme.

The paper does not say how much should be shifted from Train to Gain but the party's policy document on adult further and higher education, which was published in March this year, said that pound;400 million should be moved from the scheme into adult apprenticeships.

Chris Walden, public affairs director for the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: "We are delighted that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats have listened to our ideas to make it easier for colleges to offer higher education and particularly their recognition that the HEFCE should directly fund a greater proportion of college-based education."

Pat Bacon, president of the AoC, who is due to speak at a fringe event in Bournemouth, Education for Economic Recovery, said: "I will be attending all three party conferences and I see the Liberal Democrat education policy as very influential. In particular, I will be picking up on the role of FE colleges in delivering 14-16 education."

Andy Powell, chief executive of the vocational education foundation Edge, is also speaking at a fringe event, Can the Education System Change Fast Enough?

Mr Powell will use also the fringe on Monday to publicise a film by Edge called We Are The People We've Been Waiting For, which follows the fortunes of five teenagers and highlights problems with the UK education system.

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