THE ASSOCIATION of Colleges must take up the mantle of being the main representatives of the FE sector to government once the Further Education Funding Council is wound up, a senior official said this week.
The FEFC's chief executive David Melville told the council's annual general meeting that the association should become the voice of the sector when the funding council is subsumed into the Learning and Skills Councils in 2001.
He said: "The Learning and Skills Council will represent a much broader provider sector. While we do not expect the FE sector to disappear, it will not be so easily identifiable.
"There is a role here for the AOC and I would point to the importance of the AOC taking on a significant leadership and advocacy role for the sector, and taking on many of the things that the funding council has done in the past."
He said he hoped that the association would go on to achieve the kind of national profile that the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals had in representing the interests of higher education.
"I can't overemphasise the importance of a representative body having the strength and clout to represent the FE sector to government being in place.
"At the moment, colleges turn to the funding council for almost everything that goes on within the sector. We have been a source of advice and information and help on a whole range of issues.
"The new council won't be able to specifically focus on FE in the same way. The AOC will be expected to take on the role of promoting the sector - particularly of the needs of colleges to government."
Jim Scrimshaw, the chair of the association, said he was confident it could rise to the challenge.
He said: "We have made substantial progress in the past 18 months. We recognise that changes are taking place and we are determined to make sure we provide a representative body."
He said the association would be considering a proposal at its conference later this month to increase its regional presence with improved services at 10 area offices as part of a drive to raise its profile.