Further education will fail in its mission to reverse the decline in technical training without investment to boost costly capital programmes, a new study argues.
Colleges will end up running only the cheapest, classroom-based courses while abandoning vocational programmes such as engineering and catering, according to the paper. This will leave England truly a nation of shopkeepers - and carers.
The document, published by Lewisham College in part of a series of papers to provoke debate in the FE sector, sets out the case for greater intervention by the Further Education Funding Council to ensure colleges offer training to meet the current and future needs of industry.
The present funding system, it argues, funds student demand, but not training need. Colleges are under pressure to achieve growth, but are not required to target their expansion at any particular market. As a result, they satisfy high student demand for lower-cost programmes such as business and care skills, but cut back on less popular construction and engineering programmes.
Since many colleges feel they have no more scope for expansion, they are forced to look for alternative ways of meeting Government-imposed efficiency gains, says the study, by Lewisham deputy principal Derek Frampton. That may mean opting not to invest in the expensive equipment and materials needed for industrial training programmes, or even converting workshops wholesale into classrooms.
The only way to ensure the FE sector makes the contribution to economic productivity expected of it by the Government will be a directed capital investment programme organised by the FEFC on the basis of a region by region analysis of need, possibly with certain colleges as centres of excellence, says the paper.
However, the proposals are unlikely to gain support from the funding council, which does not see such levels of intervention as part of its remit.