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Manifestos make case for radical FE rethink

With the forthcoming general election in their sights, the 157 Group and Association of Colleges pitch their ideas for a less bureaucratic and better funded future

With the forthcoming general election in their sights, the 157 Group and Association of Colleges pitch their ideas for a less bureaucratic and better funded future

Rip up the red tape to counter costs

By Alan Thomson

A single organisation to fund colleges and universities would cut down on bureaucracy and costs, according to the body representing the country's leading colleges.

Moves to reduce the layers of red tape and number of quangos are crucial in the face of public-spending constraints, the 157 Group argues in its new manifesto.

The document says: "Removing the layers between front-line teaching and government policy through stripping out the quangos and simplifying the funding system is critical and timely."

The group is worried that the squeeze on public funds will affect its members, among the largest colleges in the country, disproportionately because they already deliver education at a low cost due to economies of scale. By contrast, school sixth forms are both funded at a more generous rate and cannot generate the same efficiencies.

Graham Moore, 157 chair and principal of Stoke on Trent College, said: "There are obviously going to be heavy efficiency savings and I think our members will have to deliver front-line services at a lower cost. That cost for a large college is likely to be lower than that for, say, smaller school sixth forms.

"I think we have to start from scratch. It is about serving local community needs and, on the other hand, delivering government policy. What are the mechanisms we need to deliver that?"

The Government wants regional development agencies to draw up strategic plans that would then be binding on a new Skills Funding Agency, due to come into being on April 1 next year.

But Mr Moore said: "If you really simplified things, why not bring higher education and skills funding together in a further and higher education funding council?

"There are too many different providers at the moment to make this workable. But I think that if we moved to a more collaborative culture that put the learner at the centre we might find that we have consortia of colleges and private providers."


  • Colleges are in a dominant position on the 14-19 agenda and must rise to the challenges
  • Simplify the funding system, strip out quangos and reduce bureaucracy
  • Ensure that FE is not negatively affected by efficiency savings, compared to schools and universities
  • Colleges are not just `skills factories'; study has a wider impact on people's work and life
  • Colleges must exert a greater influence on curriculum planning and commissioning, and excellence must be the determining factor in provision
  • Colleges must develop seamless and cohesive routes from school to FE to HE and into employment
  • Review sixth-form presumption and local authority commissioning methodology
  • Colleges should seek to set up trust schools and academies and lead the agenda on federated models of governance
  • They must aspire to be the polytechnics of the 21st century, developing alternative vocationally driven HE pathways
  • Framework for Excellence is currently too complex; a more realistic system of national benchmarking is needed
    • Association of Colleges Key points

      • Colleges should be able to recruit full-time students from the age of 14, funded by local authorities
      • All 14-year-olds need independent information on vocational and academic routes into employment and higher education
      • The Higher Education Funding Council for England should fund more colleges directly, while financial support should be extended to those studying part-time
      • A future government should ensure colleges receive three-year funding agreements
      • Skills accounts should be developed for all adults, allowing them to access education throughout their lives
      • A future government should move away from educational entitlements defined by age or qualification levels
      • Colleges, not government, should decide which courses to run in partnership with businesses, local councils and others
      • College autonomy must remain sacrosanct when local authorities assume responsibility for all under-19 education
      • A single performance assessment system is needed so that potential students and parents can make informed choices
      • Tried and tested qualifications, like A levels, should continue to be available in colleges
        • Colleges call for a future of freedom and direct funds

      By Alan Thomson

      The association of Colleges (AoC) this week called for a fresh approach to higher education, with direct funding for more courses run by further education providers, and loan and bursary schemes extended to part-time students.

      According to a manifesto published this week by the AoC, further education institutions should have greater freedom to run modules and bite-sized chunks of HE funded directly by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce).

      The manifesto says that the face of higher education has to change and that the country can no longer afford to focus the system on the needs of 18-year-olds studying away from home for traditional three-year degrees.

      It also calls for colleges to be allowed to recruit students from age 14 onwards, a proposal that backed at last week's Conservative Party conference. The AoC says that this would demonstrate to young people the full range of vocational and academic routes available into higher education and employment.

      "The national target that 40 per cent of the workforce should have higher- level skills qualifications is right but will not be met without a fresh approach," it says.

      "In 2020, some 70 per cent of the population will be over statutory school age. Many may be receptive to the suggestion that they should upgrade their workplace skills, but will be approaching this from the standpoint of adults with family and financial commitments, which preclude full-time study."

      The manifesto says the latest figures show that 170,000 people are studying for a higher education qualification in 270 colleges.

      "Despite this critical mass and recognised level of expertise, colleges funded directly by Hefce are unable to offer funded modules, or bite-sized chunks of higher education," it says.

      "Individuals often seek work-based higher-level skills but rarely want to purchase whole qualifications because of their family andor work commitments, which make it difficult for them to enrol on a full-time course.

      "Therefore the next Government should ensure that Hefce funds more colleges directly and allows them to offer funded modules of higher education."

      The manifesto goes on to say that a third of all higher education places in colleges are filled by adults studying for professional qualifications with fees usually paid in full by their employer.

      "This important provision needs to be included in the definition of higher skills and in future policy debates about higher education," continues the manifesto.

      A future government should encourage more employers to develop the higher level skills of their workforce without the need for public subsidy, it adds.

      The manifesto also underlines the importance of college autonomy in delivering courses to meet local need. It says that a future government does not need to "determine the detail from Whitehall but rather delegate decision making to colleges".

      College autonomy should be further enhanced by a single performance- assessment system for post-16 education and training.

      The manifesto was launched at a principals' policy forum held in London this week. Speaking after the meeting Pat Bacon, AoC president, welcomed the launch so soon after the party political conferences.

      "We were looking at two key strands in the meeting," she said. "One was what we were hearing from the political parties, and we presented our members with the main principals as we saw them. A key issue here was the 14-16 agenda and there was a lot of interest from members to look at how to turn this into an opportunity for the sector.

      "The second strand was to try and second guess what the public funding settlements will be for further education for the next few years."

      Ms Bacon said that the AoC was keen to measure the impact of FE economically and at a personal level for learners so that it could maximise its case for adequate public funding.

      She also said that the association had been in discussion with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about how to better quantify further education's unique contribution to higher education.

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