A college criticised by Welsh language campaigners for allegedly failing to provide sufficient mother-tongue courses has won a Government grant to help promote the language.
Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor had been singled out for attack by the Welsh Language Society which insists: "Thousands of students are being betrayed by the further education sector's failure to provide sufficient Welsh-language courses. "
And in an intriguing twist in the tale, support for the critics has come from Dr Ian Rees, the new principal at the college. He told The TES that FE colleges were lagging behind the primary and secondary sectors in running Welsh-medium courses.
Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor, in the country's Welsh-speaking heartland, has been given Pounds 30,000 by the Welsh Language Board to research how much use of Welsh is made in FE colleges in Wales and to draft plans to increase the uptake.
It will look at what is available, the obstacles to be overcome and will then produce an action plan highlighting the way forward, said Dr Rees.
"Bilingual provision in Wales has grown in the primary and secondary sectors not just in the traditional Welsh-speaking areas, but in other areas as well. We have students with an expectation of bilingual provision."
But there was often little or nothing in the colleges to help them develop the language,and keep their skills alive.
The study will concentrate on the vocational sector where problems include the cost of providing courses in Welsh, finding the staff able to teach in the language, dealing with examination boards based in England and in many cases a lack of support from employers.
"There is a shortage of provision," said Dr Rees, "but there are also numerous colleges that have expressed an interest in bilingual provision. We want to show students, parents and employers the having more than one language is an important skill to have."
There was a feeling among some employers that Welsh- medium teaching had no place in vocational training and was regarded by some as a "headache". It was an attitude that had to be overcome.
ln his own college, which covers a large area of the Gwynedd area of north Wales with centres at Dolgellau, Pwllheli and Glynllifon, all bar one A-level course is offered in Welsh and it is hoped to increase the number of vocational courses.
Dr Rees said: "The further education sector has fallen behind, but I believe this project will come up with some valuable ideas and show the way forward. Hopefully, at the end of the first year this will spawn further projects to carry the work on."
ends 445 words by Michael Prestage