BUILDINGS matter. There is a growing urge in further education to cast off the era of peeling mobile classrooms and leaking Victorian piles that sprout buddleia.
In this spirit, the Learning and Skills Council is to run a high-profile architecture competition in conjunction with the Royal Institute of British Architects. Already the two bodies have formed a joint forum, part of RIBA's strategy to promote its members' work. The competition takes things further. It aims to generate "conceptual design ideas for future colleges" that embrace e-learning and high-tech communications. It will also address sustainability.
The competition, to be launched in September, will offer the winner financial benefits and exposure within the architecture and education sectors.
LSC chief executive John Harwood said: "The face of learning is changing rapidly. The value of new, stimulating and flexible learning environments has never been higher."
In its first two years, the LSC has backed capital projects in FE worth pound;1 billion, providing up to 35 per cent of funding. In 2002-3, more than 200 schemes, ranging from pound;100,000 to pound;52 million, received LSC grants. This is almost double the amount in 2001-2. A more flexible funding framework will be introduced in 2003-4. Priority will go to urgent cases identified by strategic area reviews and inspections.
Schemes fulfilling other LSC policy aims, including centres of vocational excellence, will also take precedence. Levels of support will better reflect what providers can afford - currently grants of 35 per cent towards building costs are the norm. Most applications will be considered on a quarterly cycle; and the categories of providers eligible for capital grant support will be extended.
The LSC is also injecting a further pound;10m into colleges to help speed up improvements in disabled access. Early findings from a survey by the Learning and Skills Development Agency indicate that around 25 per cent of colleges have yet to carry out an access audit. It discovered also that few audits were comprehensive. While some colleges had made good progress, others failed to realise that special provision was needed for the blind, the deaf and people with learning disabilities. Legislation requires FE providers to comply fully with these requirements by September 2005.