Bring on the regional champions
Meet the latest government adviser on further education: a 19-year- old born in Pakistan, who loves snooker and hopes to become a doctor.
Jawad Ahmed, a student councillor at Bradford College, is the newest recruit to a programme that aims to give students more of a say in how FE is run.
He was selected as chairman of the first regional learner panel, which is being trialled in Yorkshire and Humberside and will meet several times a year to advise ministers, the Learning and Skills Council and colleges on the needs of students of all ages.
The other members, selected from a pool of students who responded to advertisements, include 89-year-old IT student Dulcie Eccleston and Dave Thompson, 24, who is studying for an advanced apprenticeship in business administration after early schooling that was hampered by dyslexia.
Mr Ahmed, a British citizen through his mother, is studying for A-levels in biology, chemistry, English literature, citizenship and critical thinking. He said that when he arrived in the UK, he was overwhelmed by the importance of education.
"When I came here three years ago to continue my studying, I saw the immense importance it had here," he said. "That really shocked me because it's something you wouldn't see in Pakistan. I thought, `I really want to get involved in this.'"
All the students on the panel will have their own concerns, said Mr Ahmed, such as the three disabled panel members, who will be able to advise on equality issues.
One of his main concerns is the effect of funding changes on English language courses for migrants. He believes that this is leading to fewer people being able to study.
The creation of the regional learner panel follows a year of work by the national learner panel, which has raised concerns that the Leitch report might make FE too preoccupied with the needs of employers rather than students, and has discussed the controversial plans to make education or training compulsory until the age of 18.
Tom Wright, a 19-year-old former student of York College and last year's national panel chairman, said: "In my view, the panel's strongest feature is its diversity. Think of any group that claims to represent students, and we are the most diverse group looking into it.
"The National Union of Students doesn't represent work-based learning, Niace (the adult education body) doesn't represent teenagers, and so on."
Mr Wright said ministers took the panel seriously, with Bill Rammell, the higher and further education minister, meeting them on several occasions.
"I'm surprised just how much he did listen - I was expecting him to be defending government policy," said Mr Wright. "But he sat down and listened and gave us feedback on how the items that the panel were concerned about were being addressed by their policies."
There are 18 members on this year's national panel, up from 15 last year, although they have yet to choose a chairman.
Mr Rammell said: "Involving learners in what we do is not optional. It must be integral to every aspect of learning; from decisions in government, to college and provider management, to the classroom and workshop.
"We all have a role and a responsibility to ensure learning is guided by, and responds to, the needs and aspirations of all individuals in further education."