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Lib Dems say no to university mergers

Liberal Democrats are implacably opposed to merging further education colleges and universities, the party's education spokesman Don Foster told The TES.

His views chime with those of senior sources within Labour's education and training ranks, opposing the current wave of planned mergers, though Labour has still to outline its further and higher education policy.

Any post-election agreements or pacts with other political parties over education would have to ensure a "strong and distinct" FE sector, Mr Foster said, giving the clearest indication yet of the direction of the new Lib Dem policy paper, expected within the next two weeks.

"There is no question of FE being subsumed into HE. Rather, we want flexibility to allow students to move more freely from one sector to another.

The Lib Dems' blueprint is for a "14 to the grave" education and training entitlement, but "maintaining the autonomy" of individual institutions.

"I want more collaboration and partnership. The welcome growth of links between schools and colleges are all a part of it."

The paper will spell out a post-14 qualifications structure bridging the academic-vocational divide, with certificates gained by the accumulation of credits from modular schemes.

With the party's plans for compulsory "learning accounts" - savings schemes for education and training which individuals, employers and the Government pay into - and a national diploma to replace all existing certificates post-14, the Lib Dems are more in tune with Labour than the Tories.

But their clearly-defined FHE policy will add to the frustration within the FE sector over the continued delays to the publication of Labour's policy. Mr Foster was as anxious about the current wave of college and university mergers in Birmingham, Derby, Leeds and Staffordshire.

The proposals were out of line with Lib Dem thinking. Mr Foster insisted that the motives were cash-driven, rather than based on the best interests of the individual or the community as further and higher institutions were competing for cash to run the same courses.

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