Editor's comment

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
As colleges plan to cut some 200,000 adult places, even the cleverest government speechwriter would struggle to prevent our readers from drawing one simple conclusion: Something is wrong at the heart of further education.

From September, while the lawns of Oxbridge and even redbrick universities will be occupied by students engrossed in study for intellectual self-improvement, further education colleges will have been put in their place as the training shops of industry.

Beyond A-levels at 16-19, it seems FE exists to provide the bread and butter education which schools failed to deliver, and to meet the needs of employers in search of a plentiful supply of workers with qualifications which, in the Government's opinion, meet the needs of employers.

Bill Rammell, the further and higher education minister, could not have made it clearer in his comments reported in FE Focus this week: "It is only right that they should focus on the needs of priority learners: young people; adults lacking literacy or numeracy skills; and those without Level 2 qualification."

So that's it then. Get on with the job and stop whinging. We' have heard similar statements from Ivan Lewis, the skills minister until the election, and even Kim Howells, Mr Rammell's predecessor.

They have all argued that the Government has increased FE spending since 1997.

With each repetition of that wonderful and glorious fact, we are more likely to infer that there really is no more money in the pot. Yet government spending on universities has increased considerably faster than it has for FE - despite that fact that the proportion of people going to university in the UK is higher than in most other countries.

If money is as tight as ministers make out, there is a simple solution.

Reduce spending on universities. It might lead to the closure of the odd university, or even an Oxbridge college or two. Of course, this won't happen.

We are becoming the kind of county in which learning for the sake of gaining knowledge is a luxury to be enjoyed only by a certain class of person. It is the class to which most of those who inform government policy - and, indeed, who write about it - belong. The class which knows only the world of schools and universities.

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