Social gains make case for cash

At last, we have the real measure of a college's worth - not only to business and the economy but also to the wider health and welfare of the community.

The value-for-money report on Warwickshire College published this week (page 1) inevitably highlights the payback to the community - for every pound;1 spent, pound;1.30 is returned by reducing social costs. For an annual investment of pound;32 million, the college returns pound;39m to the economy.

But this is much more than an argument about skills, employment and cash gains - issues that have dominated national policy for the past three years. The economic impact survey by US researchers reveals a range of activities - well beyond the pursuit of skills - that bring tangible benefits to the community.

Many critics of current government policy will insist they have known all along that such investment in wider education leads to a cut in crime, smaller NHS bills and lower unemployment. However, this is the first time anyone has quantified those gains in terms the Treasury mandarins and ministers can understand.

It is most fitting too that the report is published in Adult Learners'

Week, with two surveys from Niace, the national organisation for adult education, causing concern. One shows a 500,000 drop in the uptake of foreign languages by adults over the past decade. The other reveals a 15 per cent drop in part-time employees signing up to study.

Bill Rammell, further and higher education minister, has followed closely the fortunes of this study, commissioned by Ioan Morgan, Warwickshire principal and chair of the 157 Group of successful colleges. He needs hard evidence to make a case for more cash.

This will give him the ammunition, as similar research did for US community colleges. This has to be the start of a new era of better rewards for all colleges - investment where it really counts.

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