Business model may offer a private solution

5th February 2010 at 00:00
Comment: Alan Thomson

It is not often, compared to the ready indignance of universities and the simmering belligerence of the schools sector, that colleges get really annoyed, let alone give voice to that anger.

As has been said before in this paper, colleges and the people that work in them are too busy delivering the goods to satisfy a dynamic education and training market to be easily riled. Getting on with things is what defines further education.

But as our front page story this week makes clear, stoical silence has its limits.

What has made principals so angry is not just the scale of the cuts they must make - although having to hack back your adult education budget by a quarter is surely grounds enough - but the way these cuts have been managed.

How, they ask, did the 3 per cent across-the-board efficiency gain for adult funding announced in the Skills Investment Strategy before Christmas become a 25 per cent cut a few weeks later?

The fingers, as so often of late, are pointed at the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). Jackie Fisher, a woman normally too busy running FE's biggest business empire to have time for public complaint, says she cannot understand the reasoning behind the cut she has been handed.

A more adult discussion between the LSC and colleges could have led to agreement about which courses should be protected and which might take a hit, she says.

The Association of Colleges says the courses at risk cover major sectors of the economy - just the sort to help it reskill and upskill its way out of trouble. We are not talking evening classes in life drawing here.

Redundancies seem inevitable across FE in the coming months. Although cold comfort to those losing jobs, it will be doubly galling if staff are lost from courses that improve job prospects for thousands.

Further education has a few weeks to make its representations to the LSC before allocations are finalised in March. Whether successful or not, the longer-term issue for colleges is how they adapt to the new realities of public sector funding.

The Eversheds paper "Preparing Colleges for the Future" (page 4) suggests ways in which colleges can further ween themselves off their dependence on the public purse.

Colleges are well placed to explore further the potential of the private sector and, given the present funding situation, few would blame them for trying.

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