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Plagued by influx of Thatcher's children

Ian Nash reports on the findings of a TES survey which discovered that one in three colleges have frozen plans for growth.

Thatcher's children are the most self-centred and ungracious generation ever, according to many managers and principals involved in recruiting them for the new college year.

Several tutors interviewed for The TES survey said 1996 produced the most "arrogant" and "unhelpful" of prospective students among 16 and 17-year-olds.

Many students were reported signing up for more than one course and then failing to inform the college that they have decided to go elsewhere.

"We have always been troubled with this problem but it seems to have hit record levels this year," said one tutor at a south-coast college.

Her views were corroborated by the information manager of one of the fastest-growing colleges in the Midlands. "The intake this year were born the year after Margaret Thatcher came to office and quite frankly, they are the rudest I have ever come across."

When tutors asked for basic background information on the schools students had attended, they received answers such as: "How should I know? That's what you're paid to find out."

Several others shared the views but said it was "too simplistic" to dismiss it as a product of Thatcherism. A manager of a large London college said: "Teenagers are always bolshie. We are better than ever at recruiting and inducting students. But that means we see the bad as well as the good side of them a lot earlier."

Another said: "There are a lot more people staying in the system. A few years ago, many of these young people would not have even stepped into our colleges. "

Students see themselves as a marketable commodity for colleges and it is no surprise that they make demands accordingly, said one principal. "We must ask whether we are setting an example in the way we compete for students."

Adrian Perry, principal of Lambeth College, said some were giving students a false impression of their potential.

"There is some evidence of a lowering of standards by other FE colleges. For example we have students who we would only offer general national vocational qualification intermediate or foundation telling us they have been accepted for advanced elsewhere."

Other colleges reported a growth in poaching by other FE colleges, including tutors phoning students at home to tempt them away from competitors. While this does not appear widespread, it is a practice many say should be stopped.

However, the threat of massive poaching from FE by universities seeking to top up courses with shortages failed to transpire. The TES survey suggests about one in 20 colleges have been affected.

Principals say this may be partly because of the stiff warning issued by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (TES, August 16). Also, colleges have been better at fending off predators.

Richard Evans, principal of Stockport College of FHE, said: "It looks as though we have lost a few again, particularly in engineering, but nowhere near what we lost last year."

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