A success story we can all build on

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
The annual architecture competition for colleges is a valuable celebration of one of the positive developments in further education that could be taken for granted - investment in its buildings

The annual architecture competition for colleges is a valuable celebration of one of the positive developments in further education that could be taken for granted - investment in its buildings.

Run by the Learning and Skills Council and the Royal Institute of British Architects, the competition has once again turned the spotlight on the way colleges are being brought into the 21st century - not "kicking and screaming", but very much on their own initiative.

Particular congratulations should go to little Usworth Sixth Form College in Washington, Tyne and Wear, which has punched well above its weight to win the top prize this year.

Dewjoc, the architect, has not only managed to produce a design that has impressed the judges, but, together with the college and contractors, it has also finished well within budget and ahead of schedule. That is something rarely seen, or reported, with public-funded building programmes, and is yet another example of the businesslike way some colleges are using their financial resources to benefit students.

One of the building's boldest features is a large glass-fronted section, creating a beacon of light to inspire potential students and a "focal point" for the location.

Despite LSC funding for building projects, colleges must find much of the cash themselves. The facelift for FE will, in many cases, be financed for years to come. But it will pay dividends.

There may be uncertainty over some of the wider implications of policy towards FE, including the plight of non-vocational adult education. But the professionalisation of the workforce, and this modernisation of the estate, will bring long-lasting benefits to colleges' reputations.

Usworth's success is yet another poke in the eye for those who all too easily characterise public institutions as being somehow unbusinesslike.

Those detractors should look at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College, winners of a Queen's Award for enterprise. Or Newcastle College, which has rescued most of the courses of Carter and Carter, the private sector flagship once seen as teaching colleges a lesson about how to provide vocational training.

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