TIM BOSWELL, the Conservative vice-chair, combines his interest in further education with a front-bench role speaking on Department of Trade and Industry issues.
As further and higher education minister in the mid-1990s he was as well-liked as a Conservative minister could hope to be at the time, not least because of his evident interest in the sector. "I feel FE has been rather under-celebrated. In politics it has tended to lose out to the other sectors - many MPs are parents and so are naturally concerned about schools while the articulateness of the vice-chancellors keeps higher education on the agenda, particularly in the Lords. But a sector with 3,500,000 students has to be taken very seriously."
Mr Boswell, MP for Daventry since 1987, is conscious that his party is short on direct expertise: "There are a lot of former FE lecturers on the Labour benches, but not very many on ours." His own interest was to some extent stimulated by his wife's work on adult literacy, although he has tended to play the connection down.
He defines the parliamentary group's role as one of support for and liaison with interests in the sector, particularly the AOC.
Looking to the major issues confronting the sector he points in particular to finance: "Problems have been building up over a considerable period and have to be addressed." Another issue is ensuring that students develop work-related packages of skills.
He remains concerned about the deficiencies of support for students in further education: "There is a striking contrast between the mandatory support given to full-time students in higher education and the discretionary support available to their counterparts in further education."