A TESLancaster University survey probed the public's views on the sector's performance. Ian Nash reports its findings
Tutors are encouraging people onto unsuitable courses to boost funding, members of the focus groups said. Prospective students can turn up for a one-day-a-week course and find themselve cajoled onto a more intensive access course for university because it attracts more cash.
The practice is widespread as the funding pressures since incorporation have encouraged a "bums on seats" policy. The perception on most of the groups is that there has been a big decline in leisure courses which used to be provided at little or no cost by local education authorities. College managers privately admit that the certificates are worthless.
A 33-year-old computer programmer from Brighton, said she went on a Government-funded IT scheme and was told she must do two extra weeks of "complete nonsense" to gain an NVQ. "They said: 'We're sorry you have to do this but that is how you get the course for free. This is how we get the NVQ, and get funded'."
Coercing people was very damaging said focus group members. One said: "They encouraged people onto it (a computer course) who then left. It created a bad feeling." Many left with terrible feelings of failure, said another.
A Welsh focus group agreed there was less access to informal recreational courses because of the lack of cash. A 49-year-old civil servant said:
"Increasingly they are wanting you to have ongoing education, lifelong learning, but at the same time we're all complaining that it's less accessible."