Further education colleges must make a major effort to stop so many students dropping out, says the Government's strategic plan.
It follows evidence in an analysis carried out two years ago that as many as 44 per cent of Ulster students leave without a qualification. And a report this February found that only 58 per cent of students on general national vocational courses succeeded in 199495.
Colleges must improve individual guidance and monitor student performance more closely. They should co-operate with other training providers and employers to ensure courses reflect best practice and are relevant to the needs of the economy. Internal quality assurance must also be scrutinised.
The plan admits that "a substantial proportion of existing college accommodation and major equipment is outdated and in an unsatisfactory condition" and that much of the teaching equipment also requires attention.
But improvements will have to be paid for out of existing budgets, unless money can be found from the private sector, a view that has been criticised by NATFHE, the lecturers' union. While welcoming the enhanced role of FE, the union argued that the Government should pay up.
The Government wants colleges to raise adult basic education numbers by 30 per cent and enrolments of people over 19 by 10 per cent by the year 2000. Numbers gaining NVQ levels 2 and 3 should rise by 5 per cent per year.
Higher education enrolments should also rise through increased co-operation with the two universities, including a new Northern Ireland credit accumulation and transfer system and greater use of technology to promote distance learning.
NATFHE argues that the Government must introduce structure to enable this to happen. "There is a clear contradiction of policy. On the one hand the FE colleges are set to become corporate businesses in competition with one another and other providers, yet the Government is calling for increased co-operation, " says regional officer, Jimmy McKeown.