Tax to buy your own courses

The Liberal Democrats serve up what is perhaps the most radical agenda for change to the further education and training world.

Under Lib Dem control colleges and the whole post-16 curriculum would be redrawn with huge changes to funding, student support and qualifications.

Their education spokesman Don Foster has placed his emphasis on putting a penny on income tax to fund education improvements. Only a small proportion is earmarked for FE colleges - Pounds 20 million in the first year, rising to Pounds 700 million in year two and Pounds 900 million in year three.

The party has pledged a separate strand of taxation - a training levy - to channel private sector cash into adult education and training.

The training levy, which would be lifted for companies which provided training, would fund Government contributions into a series of individual learning accounts, providing funds for people to buy their own courses.

State contributions to learning accounts would cover the fees for approved courses, leading to a funding system split between block grants to institutions and state-backed income from fees.

At the same time the Lib Dems would sweep away the current system of post-16 qualifications, abolishing A-levels, and general national vocational qualifications in favour of a unified credit accumulation and transfer scheme.

Mr Foster, currently defending the Bath seat he won from former Conservative party Chairman Chris Patten in 1992, argues that FE colleges should be able to expand into higher education "as of right" through a credit accumulation and transfer scheme. But he has warned that it cannot be right to allow colleges to dilute their mission to drift into the world of academia.

Lib Dem control would also reign in colleges' new found autonomy, with regional tiers of government taking responsibility for strategic planning.

Mr Foster said: "I would see colleges reviving and working more closely with employers. People will be more interested about taking up training opportunities and seeing the benefits of gaining vocational qualifications.

"There will be great changes in technology and distance learning and more flexible modes of delivery.

"But I don't think there would be an explosion of student numbers. We want quality back on track before we have a major expansion.

"We would have far more doing part-time courses. The way we have to go is to restore quality in the tertiary sector and we will concentrate on that.

"The first thing we want to do is to hit the national training and education targets which we are failing to achieve.

"The most realistic target is to reach them by 2005. On current progress we would reach them 10 years after that.

"By that time we will have begun to see increases in achievement in schools, which will start to have a major impact on the scene."

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