1999 and all that

1st January 1999 at 00:00
After five years of efficiency drives, further education has become accustomed to a good New Year whinge.

On the face of it, though, 1999 is different. When the newly-announced cash for education and training expansion is totalled it's not far off Pounds 1 billion over two years.

But there are strings attached and, as the detail is unravelled, principals are muttering. "You can imagine colleges straining at the leash to bring in 1,000 more students and failing," said one doubter. "Tackling the enormity of social exclusion just ain't as simple as throwing money at it," according to another.

In some ways, the new year will see more of the old troubles. Government efficiency drives remain (albeit just 1 per cent) and threats of industrial disruption over pay and conditions refuse to go away.

David Gibson, the incoming chief executive of the Association of Colleges, argues that the sceptics have a point. "If the cash is only for new widening of student participation then they will have a right to be angry," he said. "There must be rewards for past achievements. But we can afford to be optimistic - there are signs that the rewards will come."

Colleges face their biggest challenge to date as every penny of the Pounds 1bn gained is conditional on new partnerships with schools, training and enterprise councils, and universities to help recruit excluded groups.

Sir Claus Moser's committee on literacy and numeracy said last year that 15 to 20 per cent of the population has serious problems with basic skills.This will be underlined in Sir Claus's final report, due out in late winter.

The AOC won a prestigious Pounds 1 million contract in 1998 to develop materials and new methods for tackling social exclusion so will be expected to provide some answers.

In the coming year, colleges should also be drawing on help from the new University for Industry, regional development agencies and from the higher education funding council.

With so many initiatives set to bear fruit, 1999 could add up to the Year of Social Inclusion - and the end of the annual whinge.

FE Focus, page 6

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