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Local degrees

Margaret Hodge (TES, October 17) says she is sceptical about FE colleges offering degrees. In large urban areas, where accessible degrees are already offered by universities, she may have a point, although even there experience has shown that the typically more supportive teaching styles offered by many FE colleges in these areas can be highly effective at getting adult learners back into the system.

But has she considered areas of the country where the nearest university is way beyond commuting distance for most people - Cornwall, the Lake District and parts of East Anglia to name just three - or places where cultural or social barriers make community-based delivery the only option if we are to widen participation in the way Dearing wants? "Thus far and no farther" is no basis on which to plan a system of lifelong learning.

Of course, the quality of degree level programmes needs to be assured in colleges. But a few problem cases should not be allowed to destroy the reputation of many excellent programmes in FE. No one tries to tar the whole university sector with the spectacular failings of the few.

Where whole degrees are offered in colleges, there tend to be very good reasons why both partners - college and university - have decided to do it this way. This local level, which after all has the best understanding of the learners' needs, remains the right place for that decision to be made. A blanket restriction on college-based degrees will serve no one well.

SUE BROWNLOW Head of institutional development and participation Further Education Development Agency Dumbarton House 68 Oxford Street London W1

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