Ian Nash reports on Labour's vision for the future of FE, as detailed in its response to the Kennedy and Dearing reports
Further education colleges will be the main providers of the new growth in higher education, the Government agreed this week.
The cap on student numbers will be lifted in line with recommendations from Sir Ron (now Lord) Dearing in his inquiry into the funding of HE. The new growth should start with full-time sub-degree (higher national diploma) courses and these should be taught "mainly in further education colleges", they say.
The Government, in its response to the Dearing Report, also accepts his call for an embargo on degree-level courses in FE. These will be the domain of universities and HE institutions.
The decision reflects Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett's wish to see a big expansion in those under-represented in HE, including people with disabilities, young people from semi-skilled or unskilled backgrounds, and those from economically disadvantaged areas.
It also reflects the growth in numbers of students choosing to study near their home, particularly adults who missed higher education first time round.
The Government's response to the 93 key recommendations from Lord Dearing is published alongside the Green Paper on lifelong learning, The Learning Age, and its response to the Kennedy report on widening participation).
Mr Blunkett insists: "The Government is committed to the principle that anyone who has the capacity for higher education should have the opportunity to benefit from it and will therefore lift the cap imposed by the last Government."
The focus on FE colleges will inevitably be seen as providing less expensive courses. While no figure is put by ministers on the expected growth, the commitment to increased numbers in further and higher education overall is 500,000 by 2002.
Lord Dearing estimated that the costs for HE expansion would be pound;350 million. The Government response, however, fights shy of figures, saying only that this will be tackled after the Comprehensive Spending Review this summer.