Collateral damage limitation

21st February 2003 at 00:00
I HAD a terrible dream last night that I need to share with you. The government of the day loudly announced that it wanted to increase participation of poorer social groups and condemned elitism in universities. It set tough new targets for the Higher Education Funding Council.

The council was cast into dismay by this. The traditional universities had no intention of changing the way they did things. How could they comply? Future gongs and even positions were under threat. They held urgent discussions with university leaders.

Proving that higher education really does prepare you to survive in a challenging career environment, they came up with a cunning plan. First, they flattered ministers into deciding that Higher National Diplomas should be scrapped in favour of the government's own invention, the new Foundation Degrees.

Then, when the bids for increased student numbers came through, they cleverly rejected those from FE colleges that were not part of a consortium with a university. The FE colleges were in a mess. Because of government policy for growth in HE they had invested a lot in plans for expansion.

In order to grow HE provision, FE colleges were forced to approach universities to convert existing independent HND courses into Foundation Degrees, franchised from the universities.

Since higher education in FE colleges included a much wider social mix, the universities were able to demonstrate widening participation in their enrolled numbers.

Everyone important gained from this. Universities had shown themselves dynamically adapting to modern needs. The HE Funding Council chiefs received plaudits in parliament. The government claimed the credit.

Collateral damage was minimal. The FE colleges had been messed about, but so what. Poorer social groups had not benefited, but they were used to social exclusion and would not complain.

I am ashamed of having thought so badly of our leaders, even in my dreams.

I hope that now I have written this down I can get it out of my mind and return to the real world of rational educational decision-making.

Tony Warren

Director of quality and curriculum

Loughborough College

Radmoor Road, Loughborough

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