FE focus editor's comment

30th April 2004 at 01:00
Recommendations in the coming final report of the bureaucracy-busting task force give opportunities which have not been seen in post-school education since the creation of new universities from old polytechnics.

The degree of deregulation called for is long overdue. Many would argue that this should have happened in 1993, when further education and sixth-form colleges were removed from local education authority control.

There were some bright stars which took every entrepreneurial opportunity offered to them. But in the climate of aggressive competition and cost-cutting, too many went bust, courting disgrace over scams and schemes such as the franchising of courses to the private sector.

The polytechnic-cum-universities never had an easy ride of it. With lack of parity, they were seen as the underdogs to the established universities.

For years they received less funding. The emergence of the elite Russell group of universities and variable top-up fees are likely to reinforce this disadvantage.

Ministers recognise that if colleges are to police themselves, it will require the creation of a body with the clout of the British Medical Association and Law Society. The Association of Colleges is the body, already in place, to serve that purpose. Indeed, the final report of the taskforce, headed by Sir George Sweeney, principal of Knowsley College, will recommend as much in the final report to ministers next month.

This will require the sector to pay a high price for this change. Effective policing cannot be done on the cheap, as doctors and lawyers know only too well. Real money has to go with real trust. Without it, the final report and subsequent action by ministers will only serve to create damaging cynicism that politicians are distancing themselves from the trials and tribulations of FE while leaving colleges and training providers to get their house in order on the cheap.

The pound;1.9 billion needed to bridge the gap between what the Government wants and what colleges can give - identified by the AoC - is a small price to pay.

Generosity in the coming spending round to 2008 is therefore essential. So is the need to end the divisive performance-related funding policies invented in 2002 as part of "Success for All", as Julian Gravatt, finance director for the AoC, points out on the back page.

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