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Sector faces clean up the sleaze order;FE Focus

MPs are set to warn colleges that they must stop thescandals to get the funds they deserve. Ngaio Crequer reports

MPs ARE expected to mount a fierce attack on sleaze in colleges when they publish their report on further education next week.

The Parliamentary Education and Employment Committee report will warn colleges that they will forfeit respect and funding if the string of stories about fraud, corruption and mismanagement continues.

The committee, which will argue that everyone across the sector has a duty to be accountable, is to propose extending the role of the Further Education Funding Council giving it responsibility for ensuring probity in the sector and monitoring college procedures.

The MPs will recommend appointing an ombudsman to listen to whistleblowers' concerns and investigate alleged irregularities. The committee has also been concerned about the links in some colleges between governors or principals with individuals responsible for clerking the organisations. It wants all clerks to be fully independent.

The select committee will criticise some franchising schemes. MPs recognise that in some cases franchising has widened access, but they are not convinced that colleges have justified all the schemes. Again there should be a tighter control, with the funding council being more rigorous in its inspections.

At the early stages of the inquiry MPs held strong views about the Further Education Development Agency, openly talking about abolishing it. The members gave Stephen Crowne, the chief executive, a hard time when he appeared before them to give evidence. Mr Crowne is to return to the Department for Education and Employment and this week a new structure for FEDA was announced. This year it will receive the same money as last, to enable it to complete its restructuring, but in the next two years funding will be transferred progressively to the colleges. It will only keep a sum of core funding for its strategic research and policy role.

Despite all their criticisms MPs are positive about the FE sector which they see as vital to implementing the agenda of widening participation in education. They recognise that colleges' status must be boosted if they are to ensure the Government's policies of expansion to reach groups who have previously missed out on education are carried out.

The sector is expected to receive a multi-million pound cash injection to help pay for the influx of new learners. The majority of the predicted 500,000 new entrants are expected to be catered for in FE. MPs say there must be a much more equitable and effective way of funding the individual students. It is perverse to give university students access to loans, yet not provide the same for FE students, the MPs will say.

One MP said: "This is going to be a very hard-hitting report.It will make the sector sit up,and surprise some in Govern-ment too."

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