Extension College can and should continue

We are reacting to your news item in FE Focus announcing the proposed merger of the National Extension College with the Learning and Skills Network ("NEC and LSN merge", May 21).

We write as a group of former trustees and supporters of the college who are opposed to this acquisition and the inevitable loss of the NEC's independence. This is an extract from a letter we sent to the NEC trustees in March when we first heard about the proposal.

In creating the NEC in 1963, Michael Young and Brian Jackson were establishing a model for Harold Wilson's proposed University of the Air, which was born in 1969 as the Open University.

They were looking also to create a seedbed for imaginative educational thinking and political determinism for social justice.

So it is not surprising that the NEC has been widely regarded as a significant organisation in the developmental history of open and distance learning as well an early example of a social enterprise.

From its beginnings, the NEC has been seen by the public and private sector as the leader in the provision of quality in adult and further education, not just for what it stood for when it was founded but for its continuing leadership and curriculum innovations. It has provided an important access route for thousands of mature learners to enable their personal and career development.

We wouldn't wish to make an argument for the future of NEC based on its past history, but we do believe that in the current volatile political and economic climate, NEC's ability to provide and maintain an alternative route to general education and vocational training will be even more important.

Over the years, NEC has demonstrated on a number of occasions that it is capable of adapting to the changing environment and meeting new challenges with innovative educational thinking, flexibility and pragmatism.

We hold to the view that an independent NEC, controlling its own destiny and, therefore, free and able to abide by its original principles, can and should continue.

[BX] Judith Bell former NEC trustee Richard Bourne Institute of Commonwealth Studies David Bridges former NEC trustee Shiela Carlton Open College of the Arts trustee; Tony Dodds former director, International Extension College David Grugeon former NEC trustee Helen Lentell University of Leicester Ros Morpeth NEC executive director 1987-2003 Lord McIntosh Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Roger Mills St Edmund's College, Cambridge Geoff Mulgan Young Foundation Nigel Paine former NEC trustee Geoff Peters Open University Dr Michael Richardson former NEC Trustee.

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