Haysom's gleaming legacy to FE

11th July 2008 at 01:00
When national newspaper executive Mark Haysom became chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council in 2003, one of his first priorities was to do something about its estate of crumbling buildings

When national newspaper executive Mark Haysom became chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council in 2003, one of his first priorities was to do something about its estate of crumbling buildings.

Soon the biggest rebuilding programme in the history of colleges was under way. Only now is the full cost of this project hitting home, as the debt associated with the building costs heads towards pound;1 billion just as the economy threatens more uncertain times for colleges.

So, as the LSC prepares to wind down in 2010, is Mr Haysom's legacy to further education a revamped, modern image fit for the 21st century - or merely a pile of debt?

The truth is that many of the colleges he visited not long after taking over at the LSC were in a depressing state - the sort of places associated with Henry Wilt (the demoralised lecturer protagonist of Tom Sharpe's eponymous comic novel Wilt) and corduroy trousers rather than modern education and training suitable for a modern economy.

The new look of the FE campus - from enormous glass entrance lobbies in Manchester to wind turbines in Sheffield - projects a more confident image, and there are early signs that performance has been improved, just as Mr Haysom predicted.

Unlike schools - whose buildings are the responsibility of local authorities - colleges have had little alternative but to borrow and sell assets to cover the costs not met by grants from the LSC.

Local authorities, now returning to the fold as they take over 16-18 education funding, must be feeling pretty chuffed to inherit an FE estate in such good condition. Much better condition, in fact, than when colleges were under direct, local-authority control in 1993.

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