The `perfect gift' of pound;50 tokens given at Christmas can make courses more accessible, says skills council. Colleges are hoping Christmas shoppers this year will be more impressed by adult education than Marks amp; Spencer underwear as they choose gift tokens.
As colleges are forced to look for new ways to fund courses which fall outside Government priority areas, the latest scheme is to offer pound;50 gift vouchers which can be spent on college courses.
The Learning and Skills Council believes many colleges could attract more fee-paying students if they become more commercial in their approach - and the voucher system is seen as a way of selling themselves to consumers in the same way as High Street brands. Nine English colleges are taking part in the voucher scheme - promoting FE courses as "the perfect gift".
The funding body says it has done its research which has found that the vouchers are likely be a credible alternative to those offered by High Street retailers. It has introduced the vouchers with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
Its research, which was carried out by polling firm ICM, also showed education was the "most popular" product for a gift voucher among 20 per cent of people who were questioned. This suggests FE could be a serious contender compared with books - which 31 per cent of people said were their first preference.
In fact, FE runs ahead of music, which was first preference for just 15 per cent per of people.
David Lammy, minister for skills, said: "The perfect gift pilot is a superb example of the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that runs through the FE sector.
"Enabling people to purchase vouchers for courses is a simple but effective way to make learning, and the benefits of learning, even more accessible to everyone."
The vouchers can be used to enrol on a variety of courses available at participating colleges and are redeemable during the 2007-2008 academic year, after which the scheme could be introduced at more colleges around the country.
Each gift voucher for pound;50 may cover the full course cost or a contribution towards it in the case of those which attract partial LSC funding. The pilot version of the scheme was launched at the College of North East London.
Principal Paul Head said: "This is the ideal gift for a friend or family member you know is keen to develop a hobby, learn a new skill or even update existing skills.
"We're excited about the opportunity this innovative project presents, and are certain it will appeal to a wide range of people."
Linda Siegle, joint chief executive of the Campaign for Learning, said: "This is an excellent initiative which supports our own objectives of encouraging family members to help loved ones in developing their skills. What better time to offer the chance to buy a learning course as a gift, than just after National Family Learning Week, when families have had the opportunity to get a taste of the enjoyment and benefit of learning. This idea will prove popular."
Other colleges in the pilot are Chichester College, New College Nottingham, Blackpool amp; the Fylde College, Gateshead College, York College, West Hertfordshire College, Filton College in Bristol and Warwickshire College. Vouchers can be brought from them now.
Leading article, page 4.