Institutes hark back to former polys

16th February 2001 at 00:00
Latest proposals for technology institutes look very familiar, writes Ngaio Crequer.

THE Government is to create a new structure of technology institutes which many will see as the re-invention of the former polytechnics.

There will be two new technology institutes for every region, providing courses mainly at technician level, but also including foundation, first and postgraduate degree level.

The model, announced in a joint Department for Education and EmploymentDepartment for Trade and Industry White Paper, is uncannily like that of the former polys. They were created in 1965 because of the failure to produce sufficiently well-qualified people at technician level, despite the increasing needs of the technologically-driven economy. They were finally allowed to become universities when the binary line was abolished in 1992.

The Government is looking at the new universities (old polytechnics) to link up with further education colleges and small groups of businesses, to develop the institutes, and to bid for funding. There will be an initial pump-priming of pound;25 million, and 10,000 learning places.

The development follows on from David Blunkett's speech to the Association of Colleges in November when he said that half of all colleges should become centres of vocational excellence. It fits the pattern the Education Secretary wants in schools, with increased specialisation and alternative vocational pathways at 13 for some children. Further education is being seen as critical in the delivery of intermediate level skills, and its ability to reach out to small and medium sized enterprises.

Mr Blunkett said: "It is important we get a joined-up approach. If we can get FE colleges to work with universities and business at a local level, we can do so much more than we can do separatey."

He said FE, with its extra investment, had been under-punching its weight. "We expect colleges to start delivering more rapidly and more effectively than they have been."

Asked if the new institutes constituted a re-invention of the polytechnics, he said that not all polys had been geared to technical industries. The centring of excellence logically followed specialisation in schools. "Getting FE to play to its strengths makes sense, just as universities play to their strengths with innovation and research... gettting people to have a broad training makes sense for everybody, but it is a good question."

The White Paper also acknowledges that financial support for adults is "incomplete and incoherent". The Government would "deliver a fairer system of student support which is responsive, simple to understand and accessible".

The Government is also to put union learning representatives on a statutory footing. Malcolm Wicks, lifelong learning minister, said: "There are about 2,000 of these people doing vital work. Employers see the benefits of unions taking more of an interest in learning. Unions are encouraging employers to take learning more seriously. I want the union of the future to be a learning union."

The number of Modern Apprenticeships will be increased, and there will be money from the Standards Fund to improve quality. A new Apprenticeship Diploma will provide a "broader and better" foundation of skills and knowledge.

John Brennan, director of development at the AOC, broadly welcomed the White Paper. He said there was merit in a firmer linkage between the economic and learning agendas. As centres of excellence, colleges would carry a lot of credibility with employers, and this would raise the whole profile of FE.

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