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Pounds 7m boost to give GNVQs credibility

The Government is backing vocational qualifications to the tune of some Pounds 7 million, Tim Boswell, the further and higher education minister, announced this week.

He told a conference organised by the Confederation of British Industry on education and training that Pounds 5.7 million would go to the National Council for Vocational Qualifications "to secure rigour, quality and credibility" for GNVQs.

The rest will go to the new Further Education Development Agency (FEDA) to provide support and training for GNVQ centres and staff.

"Our aim is to give a powerful kick-start to local and regional initiatives, " said Mr Boswell.

These will be complemented by the Pounds 14 million earmarked in 1995-96 for training and support for teachers in schools through Grants for Education Support and Training (GEST), announced last December.

The minister welcomed the NCVQ's decision not to levy Pounds 10 per student on the bodies which award qualifications as it would "level the playing field between GNVQs and A-levels. It will keep down costs for schools and colleges and help to stimulate further take-up".

Howard Davies, the CBI's director general, called for businesses to "put their weight behind the new National Education and Training Targets" as part of a four-point plan to strengthen a voluntary training system.

He said these national objectives should be reinforced by measurable targets in each trade or industry which could be more effectively promoted, especially to smaller companies. Businesses should be prepared to set out publicly just what they invested in training employees.

The CBI was preparing guidance on this issue. Mr Davies thought there was a case for a "business management standard" which could complement Investors in People as a mark of good management practice.

Mr Davies said this approach would be more likely to be successful than the statutory levy which was favoured in some European countries. This approach, he said, had proved to be bureaucratic, costly and ineffective.

Sir Geoffrey Holland, a former permanent secretary to the departments of Employment and Education, and now vice-chancellor of Exeter University, emphasised the importance of vocational qualifications.

"If by 2010 we haven't got GNVQs and NVQs bedded down and respected, we'll be in deep trouble." He said the sooner the National Commission on Education's call for an over-arching education diploma, giving equal status to vocational and academic qualifications, came into being, the better.

The "terrible tangle" of funding for further and higher education students and adults should be resolved. "How long can it be before we wake up to the fact that grants should be the same for FE and HE with repayment graduate tax or loans available?" Sir Geoffrey also warned delegates of the "slightly cosy self-regulation" in higher education, which caused complacency. He wanted to see more rigorous external quality assessment, similar to existing Office for Standards in Education inspections in schools.

The conference was convened to inform the CBI annual conference's debate on education and training, which is due to take place in November.

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